Review Summary: On "Skeletons" Nothingface issues some changes and adjustments to their signature style, but nothing that doesn't prevail.
"Skeletons" the third studio record from D.C.-based Nothingface is supercharged with severe anguish and turmoil endured by its members prior to recording. Their debut "Pacifier" was a run-of-the-mill nu-metal outing that only strove for exposing the band's name. Next came "An Audio Guide to Everyday Atrocity" which showcased Nothingface playing with standard nu-metal elements but shape-shifting them into an intelligent and conscious signature sound that was heavy like an anvil and sweet like sugar. Following AAGTEA the band released "Violence" a nonstop assault that embraced their then fully-fledged original style in the most consistent fashion the group had delivered yet. Now comes "Skeletons," surging with rage and overflowing with anger, it is an album that ignores almost the entire foundation built up by the band at this point. The familiar technical styles of former drummer Chris Houck are replaced by Tommy Sickles' more thrash-oriented playing. Where Houck used a highly interchangeable set of beats and rhythms, mostly in the upper-mid tempo range, Sickles is evidently more fond of either very fast or relatively slow speeds.
Adjusting to their new drummer proves only a small obstacle to the other members of Nothingface. They all came into recording "Skeletons" ready to unleash waves of sporadic angst and hatred, a motivational drive that fits Sickles' playing like a glove. On "Violence" they were very professed in merging steamrolling heavy riffs with melodic singing and chorus riffs within single songs, but here on "Skeletons" songs sway from being all mid-tempo pop-metal ("I am Him") to the most brutal of Matt Holt's shrieking and Tom Maxwell's strumming ("I Wish I Was a Communist"). Opener "Machination" alternates between quiet singing over nothing but palm-muted guitar, and bludgeoning broken guitar chords wrapped around some of Holt's most furious screaming.
As the record progresses, listeners will find that the heavier songs rarely offer a moment to breathe and recover, but are usually followed by a softer track that will allow room for rest. They are also surprisingly effective on these poppier tunes. Following the opener, comes "Beneath," in which Holt avoids any screaming, and focuses on sincerity toward the listener as well as creating a dreamy melody that further widens the spectrum of sounds expected from Nothingface. "Ether" features Tom Maxwell succeeding firmly on his mastery of catchy guitar riffs, and Matt Holt stretching his vocal limits by performing some of his most harmonious singing yet. On "Patricide" Holt calmly recites lyrics of pure hate over a curiously perky yet unsure clean guitar riff that's to die for.
It's quite a perk to have these calmer moments in the album as rest-stops, but in all honesty, once enough listens have been given to "Skeletons" any listener is sure to submit to the strength and severity of the heavier songs. On "Big Fun At The Gallows" Holt seems so incredibly angry that he's persuasive; no matter who you are, or how maniacal you see Holt's lyrics and vocal behavior, his endurance in howling blood-curdling screams will earn most listeners' respect and support. The song's deranged time signature and spastic Go-Reset fashion makes resisting the urge to headbang along almost impossible. "All Cut Up" the closer features a catchy main riff that is built on spiraling out of control and attempting to piece itself back together. It's a remarkably interesting track for a brutally heavy metal tune.
In closing, "Skeletons" manages to keep Nothingface's catalog stellar by being fairly distant from their previous records in terms of style. While its bursts of fury seem chaotic and unorganized, there's more than enough improvement in other sections of the songwriting to help bring the disorder to life. It's also a breath of fresh air considering how carefully plotted and sorted the time signatures and intertwining melodies of "Violence" were; where that album is the reliable regular-season player, "Skeletons" is the wildcard that always pulls through in the playoffs. When you account for the growth, variety, and originality throughout their entire discography, it becomes apparent that finding a single nu-metal group that is anything close to filling the role of Nothingface's rival is a task bearing time and effort.