WORDS: Jack Fermor-Worrell
Welsh ragga-punks SKINDRED have always had a great reputation for their explosive live shows, spawning the now-infamous ‘Newport Helicopter’ in the process. Their studio albums on the other hand, have a more mixed history. Previous album Kill The Power had its strong moments (most notably the anthemic title-track) but also found itself bogged down with a fair amount of filler. Now onto their sixth album, Volume, the band are looking to move on, and finally release an album capable of matching their live reputation.
Opener Under Attack begins with a heavy distortion-laden punch of a riff, before quickly giving way to Benji Webbe’s demented rapping. One huge chorus later though, and it’s clear that this is SKINDRED at their very best – heavy and yet deceptively catchy in equal measure.
If the choruses found on Under Attack were big, then the ones on title-track Volume are nothing short of Godzilla-level huge. Musically, it’s more LIMP BIZKIT-esque than anything, in the best possible way – with a crunchy riff taking centre-stage, courtesy of guitarist Mikey Demus and bassist Dan Pugsley.
Hit The Ground sees Webbe unleashing his more melodic side, reigning in the shouting for almost an entire track of smooth melody. Eventually though, he just can’t help himself, and the track kicks up a gear into a crushing cacophony of an ending, aided by a soaring vocal line.
Bringing drums and wah-wah pedal guitar to the forefront, Shut Ya Mouth is a much slower track – more lumbering than frantic. It’s a welcome change really, and one that allows Webbe to deliver a much more impactful vocal performance.
Where Volume differs from other SKINDRED albums is in its use of three short interludes – imaginatively titled I, II and III. Sadly, these add nothing to the album overall, aside from giving band DJ Dan Sturgess an opportunity to mess around, despite clocking in at almost one minute long each. Instead they become somewhat annoying on repeated listens and most listeners will probably find themselves skipping tracks to carry on with the album proper.
The Healing simply exudes charisma from every note of itself – a blanket of distortion underpins what can only be described as the most radio-ready song on Volume as Webbe masterfully sings his way through one of his best performances in some time.
Things really take a turn for the bizarre next though. Sound the Siren sees Webbe stretching his vocal range all the way to its upper limits – providing an incredibly high singing voice that borders on screeching at points. Elsewhere it’s more rapping and another Demus riff, SKINDRED clearly demonstrating the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” approach to songwriting.
There really isn’t much to say about Saying It Now, other than the fact it sounds like SKINDRED crossed with LINKIN PARK and, in places, U2 (bizarre as that may sound). In reality, what that means is a wall of noise over which Webbe delivers an impassioned vocal that sits mostly in Chester Bennington-at-his-calmest territory. It’s a decent, if forgettable track that sounds like the kind of thing that’d be significantly better when played live.
With a bouncy staccato riff and pounding drum beat, Straight Jacket is very much a party song. Packing in the band’s trademark “woah-oh-oh” call-and-response elevates it to another level though, and it becomes one of the album’s most fun tracks as a result. Only time will tell how it translates to a live setting, but we can imagine it’ll be chaos regardless.
The shortest track on the album, No Justice carries much more of a punk vibe than anything else on Volume. In fact, the brief length is the only real criticism of this track, as its rap sections and melodic moments are perhaps melded together best of all on this song, than anywhere else on the album.
Stand Up harks back to some of the band’s older material, dropping the stadium band tendencies entirely, and replacing them with a more understated clean vocal and an unexpected but welcome metal breakdown halfway through. It’s one of the album’s weaker tracks though sadly, not because it’s bad, but because the standard of the remaining material is so high. Stand Up harks back to the early days of SKINDRED, when really, a lot of their better material has come in more modern times.
As far as unexpected surprises go, it’s hard to argue with closing track Three Words. Where other tracks on Volume had hinted at balladry, this song embraces it fully. Sounding more like a pop song at first, with Benji’s vocals unaccompanied, it soon returns to the expected heaviness – albeit with a distinctly more melodic touch. It’s proof that SKINDRED know how to write proper anthems if they want to, and more of this sort of thing would certainly be welcome in future.
While Volume is by no means SKINDRED’s best album ever, it certainly hints at where the band intend to take their sound next. It’s testament to the band’s ability as songwriters too, that the album rarely dips in quality (dubious interludes aside) and maintains its anthemic qualities pretty much throughout. If SKINDRED can continue to refine this in future, they might just create their masterpiece.
Volume is set for release on October 30th via Napalm Records