Skeletal Remains – Fragments of the Ageless


Skeletal Remains received the baton as one of the new generation of artists entrusted with the past, the present, and the future of death metal when they signed to Century Media for their fourth album in 2020. It’s a role they relish and revere, and their latest effort shows a high level of self-awareness in handling the custodianship of a genre that’s a byword for stability. But death metal is also an artform of few surprises outside the progressive and avant-garde innovations of the last few years. Indeed, the question today is simple: what can you do to invigorate a community that finds it easier to seek comfort in the status quo rather than challenge it?

Opener, ‘Relentless Appetite’, starts like a fearless tank raid backed by air support. Fuck, this is violent! The opening blast beats and crunchy guitars are more effective in waking you up than an alarm clock vibrating in a tin. How muscular are the vocals over the top of the frenetic guitar action? Imagine an artisan demonstrating an effective execution machine at an exhibition in Robespierre France. The guttural vocals are perspicacious enough to retain the clarity of every word. There’s no messing around with jazz chops or obtuse finger shapes on the fretboard here.

On the surface, Skeletal Remains have your interest at heart – not self-interest. They understand that the modern death metal listener can tire easily, and they try to keep you engaged. It’s not always possible, but they do a good job of appealing to your air guitar instincts and face-grimacing contempt for polite society in ‘Cybernetic Harvest’. The thunderous drums are remarkable for their clockwork mechanics. Let your chin guide you through the crispy groove metal blasting in the latter part of this song. It feels good, doesn’t it?

Track three is where the slow decline should start unless they do something different. On ‘To Conquer the Devout’, they tease you with a brutal interpretation of groove metal before settling into fifth gear. Unfortunately, the predictability leaves you questioning if the band need five minutes to achieve full gratification – a glance at your wristwatch makes things worse. By contrast, ‘Forever in Sufferance’ is what Megadeth would sound like if you took their first three records and played them in the style of a band like Celestial Sanctuary. Superhuman endurance is the name of the game here, but the high points appear with less frequency. A clever flavouring of drum patterns in the mid-section while the guitars stay fixed on the same riff is as interesting as it gets. If anything, the thrash metal pounding is the most enjoyable aspect of this song. But do the ferocious double-kick drums overshadow the primacy of the guitars?

The health benefits of Fragments of the Ageless are not obvious at first. “Health benefits?”, you say. Look at it this way: the fast-plectrum action of ‘Verminous Embodiment’ ought to be the perfect cure for masturbation fixation – anyone who plays to this level of rhythmic velocity will have no strength to discharge their member with their picking hand. ‘Void of Despair’ is just as admirable for its riffing, but there’s nothing original here that will appeal to anyone beyond the death metal believers. Perhaps the guitar playthrough on YouTube holds out the prospect of a better experience.

Where are the dynamic variations in this music? These are essential on Side B after five songs of death metal orthodoxy on Side A. The prospect of sitting through seven minutes of ’Unmerciful’ will make your heart sink. This is a band unsuited to long compositions unless they do something different – which they appear to do in the first three minutes by refining the tempo to an upbeat intimidation exercise.  Mellifluous guitar solos add a glow to the sense of alienation. This is more tolerable than enjoyable, but you can give it a nod of appreciation. It’s also a sentiment that clouds your experience in the second half of this record. Calling something “tolerable” is not a ringing endorsement of its merits as a piece of art.

Though stronger and livelier than the latest Aborted album, Fragments of the Ageless does little to inflame the imagination after its opening two cuts. It’s a competent record with high levels of musicianship, but we can say that about every death metal band on the Century Media roster.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 08/03/2024

Record Label: Century Media

Standout tracks: Relentless Appetite, Cybernetic Harvest, …Evocation (The Rebirth)

Suggested Further Listening: Carnation – Where Death Lies (2020), Revocation – Netherheaven (2022), Krisiun – Mortem Solis (2022)