Review Summary: Raw, impassioned and superbly executed.
We Were Skeletons have come a long way since their self-titled Topshelf Records' début in 2010. An abrasive, caustic and relentless record, it owed a heavy debt to turn-of-the century screamo darlings Orchid. Crammed with complicated riffs and weird, ever-shifting time signatures reminiscent of Off Minor, it managed to be distinct, derivative and difficult all at once; passionate but not particularly memorable, with too many songs floundering in displays of technical proficiency whilst lacking solid foundations. It was visceral and dissonant but too disjointed and secondary to feel like a real triumph.
Three 12'' splits and two years later, Blame & Aging both reinforces everything that was right, and remedies everything that was wrong with their self-titled breakthrough. After a minute long instrumental, second track 'Long Night' explodes forth in a cacophony of scrappy, bass heavy riffs that refuse to settle or straighten out, preferring to twist and coil, almost challenging the percussion to keep up. But halfway through the song everything fades away, the chaos disperses, and you're left with Pallas' distant, strangled vocals atop a gentle picked riff. Small breathing spaces such as this are cleverly employed throughout; welcome ripostes to the discordant guitars and savage vocals.
'King of Tricks' lurches repeatedly from palm-mutes and violent back and forth vocal exchanges to softer, spoken word sections where We Were Skeletons begin to sound ominously like Slint. The title track is a lovely, achingly longing instrumental, the single song on offer here you would describe as melodic. 'Disease Artist' gets ripped into the apathy of intoxication as Pallas screams 'drunk off the drinking that just spills out of my mouth and down to the floor, stained carpet caked with every last stolen cigarette smoked when I’m bored'. Lyrically this is one of the more easily interpreted songs as generally they're a cryptic affair; dense and impenetrable narratives reminiscent of William Burroughs' cut-up routines.
Whilst wallowing in the atmosphere of dissatisfaction and regret that pervades Blame & Aging I was continuously reminded of a particular line from an Against Me! song – 'Have you realised all the things you'll never be"'. And whereas Tom Gabel sings the line with a dignified acceptance, We Were Skeletons rage against such a sentiment. Rightly so. They're still evolving, still hungry and still angry; their growth over the last four years is tangible.
This isn't an easy record. The math rock (as loathe as I am to use the term) influences are still prominent despite being welcomingly tempered and it's relentless tone and 43- minute run time make it something of a slog. In addition, We Were Skeletons don't temper their bleak laments with post-rock influences a la Pianos Become the Teeth, nor do they possess the brevity and simplicity of Touché Amore to make their anguish particularly palatable to outsider ears. This is as an unadulterated 'screamo' record you're likely to find outside of Pg. 99's sainted discography, but all the better for it.