Skindred – Kill the Power
“… and they have a song about ninjas” – my brother
Really, what else do you need to make this your album of the year? Nothing. But that won’t stop me from giving you a myriad of reasons why this album was the king of last year, slicing through the competition like a sword though its enemies.
I cannot overstate how perfect this album is. Every song is on point. Every. Single. Song. There is not a bad decision on here. The song craft is amazing, the production is just the right kind of clean, the energy overflows, the emotion shouts from the mountaintops.
Benji has refined his craft to the point where if he gets any better, we may not be able to comprehend it. The vocal hooks are big enough to catch a whale, but they never devolve into trite and syrupy pop garbage. He’s got power and emotion to spare. When he sings “…He knows he’s gonna have it all, the streets, the rise, the fall!” on The Kids Are Right Now, you can feel the electricity of someone’s hopes and dreams. It’s so visceral. He has a beautiful voice, but he can still scream with the best of them. His vocal track layering and harmonies on this album will blow you away when you listen for them.
The production on display lets you hear every little thing going on without even trying. Its cleanliness fits well with the catchier vibe without losing any of the grit and intensity heavier music demands. In fact, the way this album is mixed, leaning a little more towards and electronic pop album rather than a rock album, is one of the reasons I feel this album works as well as it does. Which leads me to my next point…
The use of electronics on this album borders on unreal. It’s not that there have never been metal/rock acts that have dabbled in it before, but the use and implementation on this album just shows you how poorly it’s been done by other bands. It’s seamless. Whether it is a little 8-bit break or some full on dubstep wub action, it never feels like a gimmick to ride the current musical trends but rather like an organic part of the band’s music.
The rock instruments on this album meld in so well with all of this that sometimes you don’t even notice when crazy things happen. The drums going from a live kit, to a programmed drum beat, to a distorted mess… it all happens without you even noticing. The guitars bounce between some truly heavy riff-age, echo-laden dub dreamscapes, epic chord progressions and a multitude other styles all without breaking a sweat. The bass is just as active, sometimes live and in your face, sometimes backing off for a synth to take over, sometimes even just holding down a sub harmonic groove to chill to.
To expound on some of the earlier points, this album is a textural and spatial masterpiece. The multitude of tones on this album is mind boggling, and that doesn’t just extend to guitars. The vocal textures are all over the place right along with everything else. Sometimes the guitars blend with the synths, sometimes they rock out front like Marshall stack. As mentioned in the last paragraph, the drums run that gamut as well. And, just as important as the variation is that every instrument gives and takes texture and space. If a synth line is huge, the vocals will sit farther back, or maybe spread left and right leaving the center open. If the drums open up with a huge, messy space, the guitars will come out front with a thin, gritty tone to leave the space wide.
And the songwriting! Then tension and release is right where it needs to be. The choruses are huge, but the verses are just as memorable. There are more somber songs and just plain fun tracks. They all hit the mark. You can tell that, even if you took out the glitzy production, these songs would hold up. The shine just elevates them. You could cover these songs in any genre you might think of and they would still hold their own.
Skindred managed to take everything that is right with rock, dub, pop, electro, metal, dance and everything else you can think of and distill it into the best album of 2014. If you haven’t heard it and anything I have said sounds even remotely interesting, you need to go pick it up.
Unearth – Watchers of Rule
No songs about ninjas? Sorry, you get second. Seriously though, it was really hard to choose between these two albums. This album is an absolute beast through and through. Technical, heavy, catchy, you name it. It lost only because of a few misplaced riffs. Unearth released their second best album ever, Skindred released their best. That’s it.
This album has everything an Unearth fan could want. Blazing fast head-bangy goodness. Try and listen to To the Ground or Birth of Legion and not whip your head around like a maniac, I bet you can’t. Top notch musicianship. Try and play some of this stuff, I bet you can’t.
If you need further convincing to get this album, read my Quickie review of it in an earlier post. Skindred may have been the king this year, but this album was the warlord that raised an army and tried to usurp him. It just so happens that ninjas are great assassins.