Released: 2017, Hells Headbangers
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
After issuing a demo and couple of EPs - and a compilation of said demo and EPs - since 2012, French old-schoolers Skelethal finally muster up the wherewithal to produce an entire album. The debut full-length remains firmly rooted in the classic death metal of the early ‘90s that typified their earlier work, but the band – actually a duo – still manage to sound less derivative than many others in their ilk.
For one thing, Skelethal emphasize weight over tone. So while Of The Depths … boasts the requisite buzzsaw guitaring and ripping, d-beat pace of vintage Swe-death, it also delivers plenty of bottom end and beefiness, accentuated by ample hooks, which gives it a heaviness that can be downright steamrolling. There’s no shortage of bombast to go along with the roughness – especially given that it’s just two guys, Gui Haunting (vocals/guitar) and Jon Whiplash (bass/drums and creator of the album’s bad-ass artwork), at work here.
Of The Depths … also has a friskiness and exuberance about it that makes for an infectious listen. The gusto and groove grab you from the get-go with “Sons of Zann” - even if it is a bit too long – and the band rarely let up. And when they do get low and slow, it makes things all the heavier. Still, Skelethal is at their best when moving at full throttle, as their restless energy is matched by their sense of urgency.
And despite a bonus cover of Dismember’s “Soon To Be Dead,” Of The Depths … is far from a reverential work. Haunting and Whiplash incorporate elements of a number of influences – from Dismember, Entombed, Carnage and Bolt Thrower to early Sepultura (especially on the vicious “Chaotic Deviance”), Death and Celtic Frost – without fixating on any of them. And with traditional death metal, melodic death metal, thrash and even some crustiness at play here, there is some modest sonic variety, even with the steady bracing pace.
The duo also bring enough of their own swagger and zeal to give the album a distinct personality – with some of that coming from the curious song titles alone, as evidenced by “Scaly Smelly Fish,” or “Morbid Ovation.” Perhaps something got lost in translation there, but Skelethal get just about everything else right on their first full album.