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The line between a good band and a great one can be very thin. Hundreds of bands might play similar styles of music, using the same core influences and materials, but only one or two of them may possess that special something that rises them above the ordinary. 90s California-based crust band Skaven (yes, Skaven like these guys) were one such band. Sadly, I always felt their recordings never did their songs justice; I could sense what the band were going for with their apocalyptic, doom-laden crust, but it never quite came across as well as I thought it could. Praise the Horned Rat, then, that Brad Boatright at Audiosiege took on the remastering job for their discography release that pulls in all their recorded material, as he has given these eight songs the power they were just short of previously, and god-damn do they sound very powerful.
Skaven’s sound is fairly easy to sum up: incredibly heavy crust, with very clear metal influences and a stunning bass sound and weight, conjuring up apocalyptic images of doom that do their misanthropic lyrics justice. The band often play at slower or medium tempos, but there are also plenty of moments where they kick things up a gear, adding some more chaos and violence to their sound. But what this doesn’t tell you is that the band possess that special sense of conviction and self-belief that is missing from so many other bands, and elevates their music above the majority of their peers – these songs more than hold their own against any crust band you care to name. Likewise, there is intelligent use of samples throughout, cleverly used to enhance the mood and emphasis of the songs.
It doesn’t quite seem right to describe these songs as catchy – they are too violent, too crushing and bleak for that – but at the same time, it’s hard to think of a better descriptive. They’re catchy in the same way that, say, Bolt Thrower or Amebix can be, the songs sinking their fangs in to you and the sheer power ensuring that you stay hooked. The way that the songs never sit still really aids this. The constant shifts of tempo and emphasis are sometimes obvious, occasionally subtle, and help make these songs some of the most interesting in the crust genre. They also have moments that show how close dark, heavy music can come to being beautiful, such as when a guitar lead rises from the darkness towards the end of “Severed”, or the bass-heavy mid-section of “The Swarm”.
Ultimately, this discography demonstrates just why a band as short-lived as Skaven have been held in such high regard almost twenty years after they first emerged from the darkness. Each song feels like a highlight, and if you have any interest in crust at all, then you owe it to yourself to hear these songs. Even if you’re lucky enough to own the releases these songs originally featured on, the remastering job means that these versions are worth your time, as they have added that extra bit of kick and the right blend of clarity and dirt to the songs, giving them the sound they deserved but previously lacked. Absolutely incredible.
The re-mastered Skaven discography can be streamed and downloaded for free via Moshpit Tragedy’s Bandcamp page. The vinyl version can be ordered via Ruin Nation, as well as other distros – see the band’s Facebook page for details.