High On Fire
Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN - 22/11
Written by: PP on 13/09/2011 19:54:31
British 'ragga' metallers Skindred are at it again on their fourth album "Union Black". For those not in the know, the term 'ragga metal' derives from reggae + metal, a term coined by the band itself to appropriately describe their unique sound, and by adding in a strong presence of drum'n'bass and a flavor of dubstep (as a new addition on this record), they pretty much guarantee that each new listener is in for an experience unlike none other they have heard in the past. In a live environment, their fast, almost punk-ish beats and reggae rhythms delivered on top of pseudo-heavy, crunchy nu-metal riffs transform the venue into a crazed dancehall fest that rivals the likes of Pendulum, which is the primary reason Skindred enjoy so much success in Britain.
"Union Black" continues exactly where the sound of "Shark Bites & Dog Fights" left off two years ago, although downplaying the reggae element on most tracks and introducing more hip hop and dubstep elements into the mix. The famous bass-wobble of the latter makes an entrance on a couple of songs, and vocalist Benji Webbe still throws around his Caribbean accent in an easily lovable, reggae-inspired manner. But although the opening track "Warning" (featuring Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach) is mad catchy, and it's just impossible to hate the straight-up reggae of "Guntalk" that quickly morphs into a drum'n'bass-driven piece halfway through, "Union Black" overall suffers from many of the same problems as its predecessor. One, these tracks are almost certainly much more fun live in a crazed atmosphere than on record, and two, the lack of flagship songs and the abundance of songs that don't communicate much to the listener in any form makes the listening experience a hit-and-miss one.
Where first album "Babylon" and especially sophomore album "Roots Rock Riot" created an entire genre out of the band's signature sound, and contained excellent material from start to finish, lately Skindred's output has been fading, which is also the case here. For each great track there's a down-tuned guitar crunch that recalls nu-metal a little too closely for this scribe's tastes, and another piece which fails to take advantage of the awesome fast-paced rhythms of drum'n'bass, that in combination of the reggae and metal made some of their early material so brilliant. Still, "Union Black" is considerably better than its predecessor in that it has more quality songs than anonymous tracks. Aside from the ones mentioned already, "Own You", "Make Your Mark" and "Game Over" are all good Skindred tracks. It's just that in between, there are tracks that could be considered filler, if it wasn't for the fact that Skindred songs are so original by definition that one can never really justify calling them just that. My advice? Check out this record, but definitely go see this band live, because that's what they are all about, much like watching Gallows or The Dillinger Escape Plan has always been far more about the live experience than the music itself.