Review: Skindred – Smile
Clinging onto life by the skin of my teeth.
Welsh alternative, reggae metal group Skindred are rolling up and passing around their 8th studio album Smile via Earache Records. Dropped August 4th 2023, for anyone that wants variety, catchy hooks, and intricate rhythms, then this is something to seek out. The tolerance for hip hop and metal varies person to person, but it’s made much more palatable with reggae being the main component in this concoction. In this day and age where metal feels more and more like a competition to find the heaviest sound, Skindred dares to do something different. It’s a record that deserves some attention, and while it might not be to everyone’s liking, there’s going to be at least one cut that will worm its way into your head one way or another.
Skindred works as a cohesive, well-oiled machine; each member does their part and contributes to the overall sound and vibe of the record. Benji Webbe’s lead vocals and synths are front and center and his emotive style brings a lot of passion and personality to the album. With reggae and nu metal being two genres this group has been associated with at times, rhythm is a massive component of their sound, and Daniel Pugsley on bass & programming, and Arya Goggin on drums have a tight, locked-in presence that helps give their style credence. Mikey Demus is a jack of all trades on guitar and is able to incorporate furious riffage, sublime strumming and well-measured structure into his parts that add a lot to the songs. The balanced lineup plays off each other so well and has chemistry in spades.
“Our Religion” kicks off the project with driving rhythms, cranked bass, and groove-heavy drums. Infusing dub influences, rapped verses, and punctuated by a head-banging ending, it’s a unique opener to one of the year’s most intriguing albums. “Gimme That Boom” amps up the 2000s pro-wrestling ruthless aggression-era theme music nostalgia. It’s a bit of a dated sound but it’s well performed and superbly fun. Pure workout playlist fodder, toting a sick, effective, groovy guitar that is irrevocably and superbly fun above all else. “Set Fazers” is an equally effective tonal shift. The reggae influences help make this album stand out among a lot of their contemporaries still putting out records. Another fun head-banging cut that expands and grows well.
“Life That’s Free” is a fascinating cut. Initially I wasn’t on board with its electronic fusion of pop punk and reggae but it’s one of the more well rounded tracks on the whole record. While it can be a bit of a bumpy ride, the chorus really saves this one. Another fun serving is “If I Could”. It may be a little “butt-rock” in sound and derivative in structure, but it’s hard not to get swept up in the groove and attitude. If the concept of “Godsmack but with an electronic edge” is appealing to you, then this is the track for you. The “shoulda woulda coulda” break down part is a tad ridiculous but it’s a lot of fun. “L.O.V.E. (Smile Please)” is a full reggae track that’s beaming with personality. However, the horns are in the words of Lars Ulrich “a bit stock” sounding but the track as a whole adds a good flavor to the album.
“This Appointed Love” has this great spacey dub instrumental part that creates a great atmosphere. When the heavier elements of the band’s sound are integrated it works out super well. One of Skindred’s best qualities is their ability to craft a song that changes and grows. One of the album’s standouts. “Black Stars” continues the upward momentum with another anthemic track I didn’t anticipate liking, but it won me over. These guys are masters at making infectious choruses and they know their way around a hook. “State of the Union” is a dancier number. It comes out of nowhere with a surprising swerve that works great in the context of the album. The groovy guitar solo is infectious, very memorable.
Album fatigue does set in a bit with “Addicted”. There isn’t much to really say with this cut but its energetic atmosphere and groovy tempo kept me invested at the very least. “Mama” is another spacey dub track with enough change-ups to stay interesting. It’s easy going for the most part and well put together even if it doesn’t carry much impact on its own. This number works superbly as a prelude to the closing track. “Unstoppable” is a bit of a straightforward ending. It serves as a well-rounded, cleaned up and presentable version of the band. A little repetitive for my taste and wouldn’t have been my choice to end the record, but it’s still a decent end point for Skindred’s 8th outing.
Smile has a lot going on. Not all of it works but it definitely has merit and deserves its flowers. Sections of this record are downright excellent. The choruses, dub, reggae and electronic elements work phenomenally. The band’s talent for song structure and crafting unique progressions does elevate a lot of the material and Benji sounds like he’s having the time of his life. The songs on the album definitely work best in the context of the record. The overall project is greater than the sum of its individual parts, certain tracks in isolation can’t stand but as a package deal it’s well worth the price of admission. One of the sleeper albums of the summer season.
3.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Top tracks: “This Appointed Love”, “Black Stars”, & “If I Could”
Smile was released through Earache Records on August 4th, 2023.