Skeletal Remains was formed ten years ago in Whittier, California, by two friends, Chris Monroy (guitars, vocals) and Mike De La O (guitars). The latter left shortly after the band’s formation; hence, Monroy was the main driving force in the following years. The band, heavily influenced by the American death metal scene, incorporates elements mainly from Obituary, Morbid Angel and Death. In the context of Florida’s rotten sound, their compositions were always enriched with well-crafted leads, that indicate virtuosity according to Azagthoth’s principles.

The three albums that preceded, despite their quality and skillful performance by all band members, suffered from lack of differentiation. The band’s work so far is good and worth mentioning, revealing dedication and balanced use of the attributes that make the American scene unique; there’s no need to argue about that. But I hear the same stuff (especially “Devouring Mortality” was absolutely “flat”) and I admit that this stagnation has got me tired. Of course, this is not good for an ambitious band. Let’s see if their fourth effort, “The Entombment of Chaos”, has something new to offer.

First of all, after several line-up changes De La O returned, while Noah Young and Charlie Koryn are in bass and drums respectively. Also, those who got involved predisposed me positively: the well-known Dan Swanö is responsible for mixing and mastering and Dan Seagrave made the -loyal to the roots- artwork.

In this new chapter, Skeletal Remains retain their old-school orientation, but the songs become darker, heavier and more brutal. It seems that the collaboration of the guitar duo really works: the riffing machine performs substantially better, unleashing abundantly hammering death riffs that remind us of Florida’s glorious past, and adding timely melodic leads amidst the omnipresent rawness. The overall approach and structure of the tracks remind more than ever Morbid Angel, but the ideas are improved. Add the insane drumming, with seemingly endless blast-beats, and you have a recipe that will surely satisfy most of us.

If you are aware of the band’s previous material, you should notice the difference in vocal performance. Forget the Monroy you knew. The Tardy’s and van Drunen’s hybrid changed: now his voice is deeper and heavier, and -needless to say- absolutely compatible with the sick atmosphere.

Songs like “Illusive Divinity”, “Congregation of Flesh” and “Torturous Ways to Obliteration” offer the typical, storming, steamroller attack that every deathster expects; an attack that in “Dissectasy” is almost unbearable, making the head willing to disengage from the neck. The riffing here becomes so addictive that you may get up exclaiming “F@@@ yeah!”, wishing it would last longer. In “Tombs of Chaos” the band unfolds all their creativity in interchanging different patterns: this is where we experience thoroughly their technical abilities (that’s by far the best composition of their career so far). However, a surprise awaits towards the end of the album, indicating that they really try to diversify: the doomy and torturous “Eternal Hatred” steps in the footprints of “God of Emptiness”, being an intermission among hell.

The honorable cover of Disincarnate’s “Stench of Paradise Burning” closes a hellish album that stinks Florida from afar. The production team’s approach, although modern, brings out the band’s old-school character, allowing us to hear everything clearly. Skeletal Remains, without avoiding some repetitions and without deviating from their adoration to their predecessors, gave us something that we’ll not forget in a few months. In that sense, they succeed. They become more aggressive and abyssal and -above all- do different things. We knew that Monroy is talented, but now he’s just started showing the extent of his talent. I’m sure that the current line-up is the key of unlocking his full potential. Let’s hope for stability for the band and more daring material in the years to come.

♦ 8/10

Alex Nikolaidis