It's really hard to put into words the amount of respect and admiration I have for Skinlab. Sure, when the Bay Area band surfaced in 1997 with the metalcore, Machine Head-ish _Bound, Gagged and Blindfolded_, it seemed fitting for where metal music was headed. They had the right sound and style. Eventually, people caught onto the band and they became more than just a run-of-the-mill kind of metal act. They had the live show and they had the aggression. The darkened beauty of their music was beginning to boil. They carried on.
Touring and more touring eventually led them to become a much more experienced live act, further sharpening their razor sharp skills and justly allowing them to explore their own creative angles with the band. Mix in some line-up changes and all the other experiences that bands go through from their debut disc onto their sophomore disc, and you pretty much know what kind of shit Skinlab has treaded through. Well... the new disc is out and it's a winner. _Disembody: The New Flesh_ [CoC #38] is a blistering assault to all of the senses. It's a cannon of aggression, firing equally strong blows as the album goes forth. Much like the rare, limited edition _Eyesore_ EP [CoC #36] that preceded the album, _Disembody: The New Flesh_ is a masterful and succulent morsel of metal mayhem to chew on. It's brutal and oh so juicy. Lock down and crank it up, my friends. Skinlab mean business in 1999.
With a new band to follow his charge into the maniacal metal world, vocalist/bassist Steev Esquivel is ready for anything. The band -- guitarist Scott Sargeant (ex-Killingculture), Snake (ex-Skrew) and drummer Paul Hopkins -- market themselves renegade veterans of this genre of music; strong, thick skinned and flawlessly showcasing attitudes that would make any street hoodlum envious. Skinlab is all about maintaining a variety of powerful song ideas and making sure we get it imbedded it into our skulls before they're done with us.
And Steev Esquivel means business. He's a tough cookie, my friends. Just check out the "nice" message he left on my answering machine a few Saturdays ago when I was showering prior to an early morning interview with him (note: 9 a.m. his time on the West Coast) and he called a bit early.
"<BEEP>... Yeah, Adrian, it's Steev calling from Skinlab. I'm calling for the interview. It's real early and you're not fucking there. If you don't call me back in 20 minutes I'm gonna fly over there and kill you. Call me. My number is... <BEEP>" Needless to say, I dried off and called "Hitman" Esquivel right back.
So did he want to kill me? "No... I'm just tired, man. It's been a really busy time for us. We were in Europe for five weeks and then came back to the U.S. for a tour with Napalm Death for a few more weeks and it just has gotten to the point where we had only a few days off for a bit of downtime. This is rest time for us and I'm trying to get a lot done. Interviews are a few of the things that had to be put to rest. I'm just tired, I wasn't going to kill you, really. No harm intended, OK? It's just been a busy month pushing the new record."
Speaking of the new record, _Disembody: The New Flesh_ is somewhat new territory for the band. While still overflowing with the Bay area sound, the band manages to alter their shape and sound, flowing strongly with vibes of powerhouse Neurosis at times. Does the band realize the change in pace? Did it just happen gradually? "This record has been a long time coming. It's been brewing in the back of my mind and finally we've been able to put it on record. Sure things have happened in our career over the last little while and it shows. We're definitely gonna go the opposite of what we think people would suspect we were going to do. We just kind of did the exact opposite, 'cause after listening to the first album (_Bound, Gagged, and Blindfolded_) and touring on it for a couple of years, we felt that it was a little slow. By the time we got done with our first tour in Europe, we were playing all those songs hell fast! We feed off the crowd and everything, basically, and that's what led us to think that we should probably get some more direct "in your face" stuff. On our first album we weren't really like that, we were kind of more around-the-way-ish with an airy kind of feeling, and with this one we're just pummelling you right over the head!"
He adds: "This record is all about aggression. There is a time and a place for people to vent their anger and aggression and what better way to do that than through your music, right? I mean, I love being able to go into the studio or even on stage and just let loose and let it all out. Why not? It's not like I'm hurting anybody. I'm just venting what's inside me and it's cool that people can pick up our disc and really get into what we do. Skinlab has always been there for the fans and they have always been there for us. This disc captures us at this point in our careers and it's a pretty intense ride, if I do say so myself."
So besides the changing of band members and this album's change of pace, what else brought changes to the new recording? "Basically, we got a chance to tour a lot, and we've seen people on the road, and we got a chance to re-evaluate our position with the band. We kind of sat back and wondered "What the hell are we going to do?", "What kind of songs are we going to come up with?", and so far we've received nothing but positive feedback about the new album."
"I can't describe the thrill I had when I first heard the new record in this studio. I was so impressed that we had been able to do what we wanted to do, rather than just come out with a sophomore record sounding like the first one. Doing the EP was cool too, 'cause it showcased some of our changes, but I don't think people had anticipated such changes and aggression as what we show here on _Disembody: The New Flesh_. It just floored everyone." <laughs>
The one thing about the new record is the flow of the material. It flows effortlessly from opener "So Far From the Truth" to the closer "Looks Can Be Deceiving". One might even argue, with thoughts at hand over the album title and the music's flow, could this be a concept record? Starts Esquivel, "Well, we had a contest, through Metal Hammer magazine, and we basically picked one word from a contestant's entry. We had a bunch of people send in stuff, like all different kinds of titles [for the album]. We liked a lot of them, but one just stuck out and that was the word "Disembody", and we already had "The New Flesh". "Disembody" kind of means us stepping out from our past, and "The New Flesh" is kind of introducing the new band. This record is all about being one. Starting with a form of aggression and watching it mutate with the ideas we bring to the record. This is a new sound to some degree and a definite new path for us to follow."
Another much noticeable element to the true archaic, rusted rampage of a sound that they deliver is the production work. As found on the last outing, Andy Sneap (Machine Head / Earth Crisis) once again took over duties of working the sound of the band. A successful accompaniment once again. "We used Andy Sneap again", explains Esquivel. "This record has a more raw and noisy, kind of just "boom!" right in your face sound to it. Where the last one was heavy, and of course for an album in 1997 it just crushed you, but still this one just hits you right over the head immediately. There's no roundness to it, there's a lot of wholeness to it. I mean we're very, very proud and we're happy we were able to accomplish this record, and it's real cool to put that under our belt."
With this record, Skinlab should break away from the derivative and often overused definition of the band. You know? Machine Head clone. Says Esquivel, "The biggest misconception is that everyone thinks we're a big Machine Head clone, and that every time a band comes out of the Bay Area it's just either going to be Metallica or Machine Head, you know? Ten years from now people are going to be saying about the next band coming out of here, "Dude you guys sound like Skinlab!", so whatever."
In terms of new blood and new flesh for the band, how did that work its way into song writing for the new LP? How much writing did everyone contribute to the new album? "Actually, a pretty even amount", explains Esquivel. "We all come in with our ideas, I'd say myself and Scott wrote half the record and Snake wrote a couple of songs. And between all of those we actually collaborated together on them, and kind of put 'em together, threw 'em back and forth, and tossed parts out and whatever."
Get past the notion that this band has been assembled from various other projects; these guys play like veterans, crushing down upon us such a killer sound and equally powerful momentum. It's a shame that some may write off Skinlab because of what they may have heard or the label they are signed to. Fuck 'em! I've said this before and I'll say it again, _Disembody: The New Flesh_ is by far one of the best LPs you'll hear this year. If your ears aren't bleeding and your neighbours aren't complaining by a third listen, then you're not playing it loud enough. It's ingenuity like this that keeps metal music on its toes.