In the ever-crowded world of death metal, California’s Skeletal Remains is a clear standout. Their influences stay strictly within the confines of old-school death metal, but fortunately, they steer clear of Incantantion-worship in favour of a thrashier sound. “Devouring Mortality” is their third such offering, and presents a record that owes its existence to the Floridian scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s, along with a healthy dose of Dutch band Pestilence.
The only major difference between these historical groups and Skeletal Remains is in the production. “Devouring Mortality” is equally as punchy as anything recorded at Morrisound, but it features a thicker guitar sound that feels more appropriate for 2018. This allows the band to incorporate both slower and mid-paced riffing by utilizing plenty of palm muting. One stellar example is in “Catastrophic Retribution”, where the band breaks into a chunky, breakdown-styled riff for a short moment, made possible only by the sheer heaviness of the record.
Though the sound quality on the record makes it appropriate to slow things down, “Devouring Mortality” does not lack speed. As with all death metal, it features no shortage of tremolo-picked riffs, but Skeletal Remains has a distinct thrash vibe in their songwriting. They remember that riffs can be about more than repeating the same note 4-8 times before moving onto the next note. “Parasitic Horrors” is essentially a template for how to incorporate thrash riffs into this more extreme style of music. As a result of examples like this, there is plenty of variety throughout the record, especially because of the band’s inclination to also get melodic on occasion.
Specific nods to classic death metal groups are easy to spot. “Ripperology” features a section that must be an unreleased bonus track from “Spiritual Healing”. More references to this album are on both “Catastrophic Retribution” and“Grotesque Creation”, where the shredding distinctly recalls James Murphy’s technical approach. On the other hand, tracks like “Seismic Abyss” and “Torture Labyrinth” have twisting solos that evoke the brilliance of Morbid Angel’s Trey Azagthoth. And then there are the tortured screams of frontman Chris Monroy, who sounds like a cross between Chuck Schuldiner, John Tardy, and Martin Van Drunen. His voice is dripping with sickness, and provides a nice contrast to the flawless production.
Perhaps the only surprise on the record is the frequent use of blast beats. Obviously, many of the bands referenced above incorporated plenty of blasting, but Skeletal Remains can transcend into a slightly more modern sound at times because of their usage. Maybe it is the fact that “Devouring Mortality” has so much influence from Death (who never used blast beats), but occasionally, these patterns feel unneeded, particularly the slower, more militaristic ones. This is a minor nitpick because truthfully, Skeletal Remains is one of the few death metal bands that is completely on the ball. “Devouring Mortality” is a clinic in writing great death metal, and while it doesn’t match the classics, it is nonetheless a great reminder of how brilliant this subgenre used to be!
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4.4/5 or 88%.