Friday, October 5, 2012

Skinned - Isolating the Gene (2012)

Skinned are a quality gore metal band out of Fort Collins, Colorado, who have been stewing their pungent concoction of rancidity for a number of years. Isolating the Gene is their third full-length attempt to make a name for themselves in an over-crowded genre, and while its diseased decadence is not exactly a reinvention or a masterpiece, it nevertheless provides a satisfactory, and often surprising, bout of dynamic bludgeoning. This is muscular, precise death metal with elements of tech, grind, and slam, somewhere between the obscene medical machinations of Carcass, the technical mosh pit grooves of Dying Fetus, and vibrant alien oddity not unlike Embrional or Origin.

What impresses me right off the bat is the level of versatility here. Yes, much of your time will be spent being battered to a fucking pulp by frantic, epileptic blast-beat carnage, but these wild gyrations are spliced well with the genealogy of concrete-slamming grooves, and the mixture contains enough variety to ward away overt familiarity. It’s never an all-out blast, but a combination of generally strong ideas coagulating into something more than the sum of its mutilated parts. I often felt like I knew exactly what was coming, as many of these individual sections are wrought of tricks and styles you’ve heard countless times before, but I was pleasantly surprised again and again, as the way Skinned construct the tracks here is just dynamic enough to put you off balance. There’s an alluring sense of discovery as you navigate the rooms of this blood-soaked maze, and that’s a lot more than I can say of most bands that peddle this style these days. Brutal American gore metal is not known for its dynamism, so that’s a strong point in the band’s favor.

There are a huge number of riffs and rhythms to be found within there 37 minutes, and while some of these grooves feel generic and overused, and just a bit too ‘slam’ or ‘core’ for my sensibilities, they’re always in the midst of more interesting happenings, so their inclusion is by no means crippling.  A lot of cool, creepy melodies also needle away in quick bursts, pleasant bits of sickly beauty shining amidst the churning violence, like dashes of blood in your favorite bile soup. There are also some surprising emanations of atmospheric density in some tracks, like the lengthy Colossal, showing even more variety in a project I’d at first assumed was just another splatter-fest. I’d say only about 70 percent of the riffs here really impressed me, but barring a few banal chugs, none of them are anywhere near bad. And, you know, 70 percent of 1,000 is still 700, so the album does not lack for quality notation.

There is only one guitarist on Isolating the Gene, a bit surprising considering the versatility of the riffing here. These are by no means just your stock Amerigore chugging mutes, but an array of violent tremolos, creeping fibrous licks, and sickly, tenebrous leads courtesy of one Travis Weickum. In conjunction with the astoundingly taut drum performance of Mike Nolan, who is absolutely masterful, Isolating the Gene often has the precise, clinical feel of technical death metal. Indeed, much of the record is quite acrobatic, in particular the whirling depravity toward the end of Recies Feces (clever...), a hailstorm flurry worthy of Origin. I was also reminded of Psycroptic and Decapitated more than a bit. I'm not sure if it's quite insane enough to wind up astounding the more mathematically inclined headbangers out there, but it sure battered the fuck out of me. It’s not exactly at the level of virtuosity one would hear from Spawn of Possession, for example, but it’s not trying to be, and it feels tightly woven and undeniably ferocious nevertheless.

I found myself, as usual, wishing the bass was a bit more prevalent. It’s there, to be fair, and adds appreciable depth to the calmer moments, but it’s tone is just a bit to low, and it gets buried by the guitars. I can always hear that it's there, but picking out notes becomes a chore. It's too bad because when it does poke its head through, it's usually doing something interesting, so I feel like there's a whole layer of sweet notation here that I'm missing out on. It does its thing, though, and the album would certainly suffer without it, so I can’t be too picky. The vocals of Kevin Pack encapsulate pretty much all the various styles one might expect of this genre, mercifully without the incomprehensible animal bleating that has gotten so popular with the rise of vapid deathcore and other mind-numbing wigger/slam/bro, brutal for the sake of brutal, knuckle-dragging banality. Instead, he provides a raw, throat-ripping yell/growl that feels both dry and savage, and can go high or low to appreciable extremes. Production is fine just fine, no worries at all, as hostile and dry as the desert and undeniably effective for conveying these flesh-slicing musical winds.

Isolating the Gene was an all-around pleasant surprise, with a host of stylistic inclinations that belie the basic gore core foundation, and the end result of such a Frankenstein process actually feels a bit unique, not to mention enjoyable, for virtually its entirety. Not all of the progressions here are fresh or innovative, but Isolating the Gene is constructed and performed with such skill and fire that it impresses the pants off you anyways. However, I still don’t feel drawn to some of the more generic chugging/breakdown patterns, and this has my opinion is constant conflict concerning the score. I've considered everything from 7 to 8.5, since so many parts here kick my ass unbelievably hard, but then the one-note chugging just comes along and ruins the flow. It's really a conundrum, so I'll just have to meet in the middle. If they had trimmed the fat a bit, I think this record would have been much more scathing. As is, however, it’s still undeniably effective, and should find a place in the hearts of a good many death heads, if Skinned can overcome the obstacle of becoming even mildly visible, an increasingly difficult prospect in this dying music industry. To that end, I suggest with stern immediacy that you give this band a shot, and throw them a bone if you like what you hear. Isolating the Gene will by no means change your world, but their brand of celeritous, semi-technical bludgeoning is a sweet, unexpected breath of fresh air in the sea of clones that make up the gore metal underground.

7.75 / 10 - Exploratory Gore Galore