Review Summary: Pulled taut over a frame.
Death metal has (so far) had a fruitful run through 2021. Hell, I'm still contemplating the sheer amount of quality music that’s been released this year compared to those that didn’t force musicians to sit in homes rather than tour buses. It was this or being faced with the choice of twiddling their thumbs or crafting hits with the undisclosed amounts of free time available to them. None of this would be at all possible without a few masterminds, practitioners and/or isolated folk releasing music that ultimately causes headaches amongst the industry’s devotees that need to categorize, rank and re-rank with every new record. That aside 2021 will probably be rated amongst the best of recent years. Despite all this posturing, moments of hype and pensive praise, I still find Skin Tension’s Machinic Impulses of the Hyperreal
overshadowed by other albums released this year. That’s not to say that it’s lackluster. Not at all. However, the avant-blackened death metal non compos mentis on show here.
Sure enough, opener “Embryonic Abduction” bursts through like a train hitting a barricade. There’s a pause, before the freight starts barreling down a line with no tracks. It’s a frenzied, feverish onslaught that cannibalises the tropes of extreme metal into a melting pot of dissonant riffs, agitation, wailing feedback, screeches and snarls. If Machinic Impulses of the Hyperreal
could be compared to anything, it’s the unrestrained chaos of black metal, free jazz and in places, grind. This unprovoked approach is metered by the band’s innate, improvisational ability to slide some measure of groove into tracks without it becoming a demanding focus. The tail end of “Embryonic Abduction” features some of these more subtle moments before resorting to a compositional style akin to shaking a cutlery drawer violently, stopping just short of nth degree chaos. Perhaps it’s the group’s ability to showcase individual strengths whilst playing as a collective unit. Skin Tension are clearly immensely talented and have a knack for their instruments, which occasionally teeter on the edge of self-masturbatory while they bombard their listeners with the frenzied veracity they’ve become known for. Despite the impressive musicianship, there’s a few too many moments that sound like the testing slap of a snare or the beeps and boops of eight and nine guitar strings in between sets. Did someone forget to press pause while recording some of the more introspective moments here? All the while making sharp “fuck it” comments while adding these deliberately more minimalistic, discordant sections of “Conqueror Worm” to the final cut? Regardless, there’s a measure of contrast here between the auditory displays. The rambunctious saxophone peppered throughout the album—equally similar between the more fluid, yet crazed melodies and the sounds of air escaping a squealing balloon. Once again, producer Colin Marston brings his brilliant mastering to wrap Skin Tension’s work together, keeping their technical whiplash in check while maintaining a foundation of grit that maintains Machinic Impulses of the Hyperreal
’s complete ferocity. The man seems to pop up in prolific ways, an unsung hero of the metal community beyond his exploits with Krallice.
“Crypto-Gerontocracy” continues this spiraling trajectory, reveling in dizzying feedback, moments of groove and heavy snare work, and yet it’s a winding journey that builds its frustrations into a cesspool of aggression. By continuing in such a mechanical direction, Skin Tension arises due to the group’s use of atmosphere; capitalizing on swirling, jarring compositions, changed at a whim and without remorse—jarring personalities on a collision course with themselves. In comparison to the other tracks, “Non-Compliance”, is somehow more disjointed in both atmosphere and its slower tempo ultimately moving into more virulent passages once again. It’s a break of pace before the album’s final track “Voyeur Culture” hits, restoring the momentous chaos so prevalent at the top of the record.
For weeks now Skin Tension’s newest slab of explorative death metal has seen multiple spins. Despite the sheer volume of releases I listen to, I can’t help but notice the skill of metal musicians and the grip the genre continues to have on this modern era. Looking back, today’s listeners are blessed. We can pop on Maiden’s greatest hits, visit a remastered Helloween record or blast the fuck
out of Ulcerate’s Stare Into Death and Be Still
(sometimes all at once) without being limited by a catalog, the availability of a corner store or the nation to which we are born. Machinic Impulses of the Hyperreal
is a bridge between artistic violence and the extremities that metal has to offer. Specifically speaking, Skin Tension’s Machinic Impulses of the Hyperreal
is a solid, quirky and extreme take on the avant. The usual cop-out applies: this isn’t going to appeal to everyone - but it should be loved by those who appreciate a healthy dose of non-compliant metal.