BMG / 7pm Records
25 April 2011
by Amit Sharma
There is no doubt that Skindred are one of the most exciting live acts the UK has produced in the past decade. Even your most purist, elitist and holier-than-thou of metalheads would struggle to fault their consistently explosive stage performances. That said, whilst it’s commonplace for most bands to sound better live than on record – the incongruity is at its most severe with Skindred. The three albums that precede Union Black have showcased how innovative this Welsh quartet can be, though never quite captured the absolute intensity of what they are capable of. After years of touring and proving their worth to the masses, will this be the record that does them justice?
From the first listen the answer can only be a resounding yes – this is very much the Skindred album we’ve all been waiting for. It’s heavier, catchier as well as more diverse than anything they’ve recorded yet. Opening with a drum ‘n’ bass mashup of ‘God Save the King’ taunts the ear with something part Pendulum and part Queen (no pun intended); before lead single ‘Warning’ thunders in with some glissando riffery that rivals Wes Borland’s finest. The guitars feel dirtier and downtuned, giving Benji more space to dominate the spectrum and deliver the massive choruses needed for a more infectious sounding Skindred. The nostalgic nü-metal bounce is efficaciously delivered through a higher gain, more scooped guitar sound and the stylistic shift from punk to more metallic riffs.
‘Cut Dem’ showcases some great production trickery by gracefully blending garage, guitar arpeggios and dubstep wobbles before gasconading a chorus that Linkin Park would be proud of. Whilst Skindred have always incorporated non-metal influences into their music, Union Black feels like the first time they have had the confidence to fully explore these territories, perhaps partly down to the guidance of producer James Loughrey. The result is an explosive synthesis which allows Benji’s eccentricity to shine in full: especially on up-tempo tracks like ‘Doom Riff’, ‘Living A Lie’ and ‘Own Ya’.
The 80s ska feel of ‘Gun Talk’ breaks the album up nicely at the mid-point and would have sat perfectly on the 2 Tone inspired soundtrack to ‘This Is England’. The synth work echoes the calypso genius of Koji Kondo’s Super Mario Bros theme – though with an added twist of choppy, jungle flavoured drum loops. With meatier riffs that verge close to the realms of Korn and Slipknot exaggerated by perpetual shards of electronic wizardry, Union Black confirms itself as a masterpiece from the offset.
There will be many that were first exposed to Dub War through Benji’s inclusion on the debut Soulfly record. Now in 2011, it is interesting that Skindred are playing venues like Kentish Town Forum, which are a good few hundred more in capacity than where Soulfly last toured. Armed with an album loaded with anthems custom built for the live arena, this could very well be the year we see Skindred become the internationally acclaimed genre-smashers we always knew they could be.
Guitar solo rating: 2/6
Sounds like: Skindred at the very top of their game
Top tracks: Cut Dem, Doom Riff, Own Ya
Skindred – Union Black tracklisting:
Warning (feat. Jacoby Shaddix)
Living A Lie
Make Your Mark
Get It Now
Bad Man Ah Bad Man
Death To All Spies