Totem Skin (Sweden)
Review from http://www.sputnikmusic.com
With winter crawling in, it is only appropriate that releases that evoke isolation, desolation and desperation start creeping out of the woodwork, looking to dig their morose hooks under the skin of their listeners. Swedish sextet Totem Skin's third release has come at the right time to take advantage of these changing seasons and draw us in to their collective experience.
Opening 1-2 of Kargt Landskap and Still Waters Run Deep are a well defined signal of intent. Their brooding build ups, chaotic releases and throat scraping vocals set the tone for what is to come. The latter's d-beat centered drive providing an early highlight for the album and an excellent, accessible way to get a better grip of their sound which thrives on cold, cutting guitar lines that lend a distinctly "blackened" feel to proceedings.
While the incorporation of black metal influences seems to be an ever more common trait among the hardcore sub genres it is perhaps more incidental than conscious in the case of Totem Skin whose sound encapsulates a similar form of isolation and loneliness to that displayed on early BM releases from northern Europe, which despite coming from a crowded sextet always feels genuine. Their sound is also supplemented by an undercurrent of sludge that lends weight to the atmosphere when ferocity and speed gives way to lurching heaviness.
Alongside such modern stylistics it is also clear that Totem Skin look to the past for many of their cues, often hinting that they have distilled much of Pg.99s discography in to a coherent and expansive whole. In particular Atrophy of the Heart recalls the exhausting sprawl found in Pg.99s By the Fireplace in White. The dual vocal approach will also heighten such comparisons however their passion and impact are very much their own. If there is to be a criticism, it may be said that the vocalists, while imbued with doubtless conviction and emotion in their performances, do little to distinguish themselves from their peers. This said, the extra level of oppression brought by two screaming vocalists is remarkable, how their relationship and interplay develops on future releases will be interesting to follow as it provides an extra dimension for the band to explore as they progress.
Where this album really shines is the tension between the explosive heaviness and its quieter moments. They provide moments of respite and calm that allow the listener to absorb the maelstrom they have just been spat out of and prepare themselves for what lies ahead. This is exemplified by the closer Seasons Don't Fear The Reaper, We Can Be Like They Are , with its gentle repeating guitar line that wraps the listener up in a quiet, collected sadness before erupting in an unforgiving dirge that is destined to echo in the minds of a lucky few for years to come.
Taking this album as a whole, quality and humanity can be found in every department, the production and mixing is raw but affords the clarity the songs deserve while the music itself is considered and affecting. Given time there is every chance that this album will be mentioned in the same breathes as those they have taken inspiration from. As it stands, Totem Skin look set to make end of year list making just that little bit harder for the discerning screamo fans of the world.