On “Devouring Mortality”, the California death metal crew’s third full-length album, Skeletal Remains deliver what is without a doubt one of the best death metal albums of the year so far. This is a record deeply indebted to the old ways of death metal, drawing inspiration from early Morbid Angel, Pestilence, Death and Obituary, with a few tasteful modern stylistic flourishes. The result is an album which sounds refreshing on every level, in its honest and unabashed emphasis on the ancient art of sick riffcraft in the service of merciless, crushing death metal.
As lead single “Seismic Abyss” convincingly demonstrates, this is a band whose relentlessly heavy death metal is all shred, bruising grooves and downtuned thrashy riffs. The brutal riffs are surprisingly technical given their more traditional inclinations, but never anything less than instantly memorable and neck-injury-inducingly heavy. Frontman Chris Monroy’s Van Drunen-inspired howls are another fantastic old-school throwback, and new drummer Johnny Valles puts in a sterling performance behind the kit. The dense, chainsaw-like guitar tone is a kick to the teeth, and owes something to Morbid Angel’s classic albums Gateways to Annihilation and Altars to Madness, a perfect pairing if there ever was any. The guitarwork is really what sets this album apart, with ferocious old-school riffs and explosive guitar solos that would make Trey Azagthoth proud.
The punishing rhythms and grooves on the title track never let up, and the band only slows down briefly in order to sink into even heavier, grinding grooves. The opening of ‘Torture Labyrinth’ with the shrieking guitar solos and prominent bass is a pretty clear nod to Finnish greats like Demilich, but the album transitions naturally back towards their closer North American influences and their assault renews. The opening section of ‘Mortal Decimation’ is one of the heaviest moments of any song so far this year. The album packs in a dizzying array of whiplash-inducing riffs, leaving the competition in the dust. The album clocks in at just under 45 minutes, which is absolutely perfect for a record this unrelentingly heavy. The production is relatively clean but gives every instrument enough room to breathe without being compressed or loud in a way which can make albums like this a testing listen.
“Devouring Mortality” is without a doubt one of the best death metal albums of the year so far. It demonstrates a single-minded devotion to delivering a bruising but memorable death metal album, free from gimmicks or pretentious experimentation. It’s one of those albums which I can’t listen to without a huge grin on my face, just out of sheer delight that there’s a band still dedicated to making this kind of death metal in 2018. This is an album to play loud and on repeat.