Sunday, October 25, 2015

Album Review: Skindred - "Volume"

Taken in a vacuum, the phrase ‘Welsh reggae metal band’ sounds like the incoherent rantings of a certifiable lunatic, but metal has forever been a safe harbor for that kind of unexplainable mishmash, and so we could only be making reference to Skindred.  Since their debut record in 2002, the band has been bringing a unique blend of reggae riddims and over-charged metal beats to masses on both sides of the Atlantic, accompanying their characteristic sound with a bombastic live performance.

Nothing about that basic formula has changed for “Volume,” the band’s sixth and latest studio record that again pairs the disparate worlds of their musical inspiration.  Naturally, comparisons to the Bad Brains come easily, but don’t tell the whole story, as Skindred is more apt to let their metal overrule their rhyming flow and also use no real punk framework to speak of.  There are similarities between the two bands however, in that they both embrace the historically political streak of reggae music to address societal issues either directly or in metaphor.  Skindred has no problem deviating from this serious material and breaking down into a party, but usually only as a chance to take a break before the next Rubicon is crossed.

What makes Skindred’s presentation work is that the music is really a symbiotic blend when one form helps accent the other.  Reggae has forever been a bastion of deep beats and recurring measures, which can only be enhanced by the power and fury of metal’s distortion.  So it is from the jump with the shambling hammer of “Under Attack” followed by the seam-bursting title track.  Both are threaded through with enough digestible melody to provide some contrast to the deep bass beat which helps make these tunes more than just adapted reggae songs.

“Volume” is a remarkably consistent experience, with the same general musical principles floating the album’s duration.  The performance of each track, even the cuts at the bottom like “No Justice” is professional and measured; nothing on this album is mailed in and every song is played with equal fury and resolve, lending the album a slick but authentic flavor.

Skindred is possessed of a skill that few other bands can boast, which is that they have a nearly fool-proof backup plan.  An unintended benefit of combining two traditionally separate styles of music is that the band is likely skilled in both, so when push to comes to shove, Skindred can always fall back on being a capable reggae band, rather than push out sub-par metal.  We see this a couple times on “Volume,” notably for “Shut Ya Mouth” as the band seems content to tilt their sound one way rather than push a heavier envelope that doesn’t want to move.  Make no mistake, this is a compliment.

There’s nothing aesthetically wrong with “Volume” from a critical point of view.  It’s true that the record is probably a couple cuts longer than it really needed to be, but that’s a minor gripe when unwanted songs can be skipped with an effortless button press.  The other issue with “Volume” is the one that has likely plagued Skindred since the band’s inception – there are those who won’t get it, or refuse to embrace it, or regard the blending of such musics as anathema.  Skindred, while they are capable of walking and playing in both worlds, is really only concerned with those two, and thus cannot provide a different look for anyone who isn’t interested in the primary sample.

Skindred may not be new to the scene but they remain as ever a refreshing change of pace from the norm.  In a year when it seems like there’s become an abundance of sameness, a grueling homogenization from all areas within the metal sphere, Skindred serves as a ray of something vital and different, well-versed in their craft and talented in executing it.

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