If you’re already a member of the Newport Helicopter Crew, you’ll probably know all of this, but if you’re new to Skindred, then let me take a minute to give you some background.
Back in the mid-90s, popular music genres were much broader than they are today. Music labels were still confident in their ultimate power over distribution and exposure, and alternative bands had to have their own unique sound to stand out and grab the attention of A&R reps. In a dark, grimy, beer-soaked corner between metal, indie, dance & pop lived a group of bands that resisted all attempts at pigeon holing. Every band was an eclectic mix of influences and all were as different from each other as they were from the mainstream.
Alongside the likes of Senser, Pop Will Eat Itself, Collapsed Lung, Jesus Jones, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine was a four-piece Welsh juggernaut called Dub War. Mixing metal, ragga and punk with dub and hip hop, the band put out two landmark albums via Earache Records before splitting up in 1999 due to disputes with the label, and from the ashes (well – Benji) of Dub War rose the mighty Skindred.
Featuring a more driven, heavier and ultimately far more successful sound, Skindred’s first album – Bablyon (Bieler Bros./Lava) – was a critical and (eventually) commercial success having featured on a myriad of charts (twice #1 on the Billboard reggae albums chart!) by its 3rd release. Whilst remaining similar in tone and content to Dub War, there was more subtle focus of guitar riffing in both the writing and the (clearly superior) production. The second album – Roots Rock Riot (Bieler Bros.) – signalled a move away from the old Dub War approach, establishing the distinct Skindred sound (which I shall call Skank Metal) in its own right and delivering the band squarely into the arms of the metal fraternity. From then through to 2011’s Union Black (BMG), fans have been treated to massive downtuned riffs, shoutalong breaks, roughneck vocals and sub bass drops as the band have motored through headline academy-level tours and 50k+ festival crowds. Last year’s Kill The Power (BMG) throttled back somewhat with a mellower and more varied sound.
Volume (Napalm) is Skindred’s sixth studio album, following hard on the heels of the last release (only one year between releases rather than the usual two or more), and seems in many ways to have come full circle. From the outset with ‘Under Attack’ there is a distinct and nostalgic return to the Dub War vibe. ‘Volume’ and ‘Hit The Ground’ are sublime fusions of old War and new ‘Dred. ‘Shut Ya Mouth’ is sure to be a moshpit favourite – it’s going to sound monstrous live – and ‘The Healing’ is a swaggering singalong with a euphoric chorus and some random sampling for an outro. ‘Sound the Siren’ has set-opener written all over it, ‘Saying It Now’ returns squarely to Dub War ‘Million Dollar Love’ territory, whilst ‘Straight Jacket’ is possibly the perfect song to show the uninitiated what Skindred is all about, ‘No Justice’ is a punky skankathon, ‘Stand Up’s Slash-esque rolling riff displays some classic rock chops and the show is closed with the near-ballad of ‘Three Words’.
In an age of bands that sometime seem shameless in their adherence to the confines of their parent (sub)genres, Skindred are an inspiration. There’s still no-one sounding remotely like them. Long may they continue.