Skindred – Smile review

It’s official: the Newport Helicopter is back, bringing with it the gang of riotous reggae-rockers, determined to make us SMILE

Label: Earache

Genre: Ragga Metal 

Released: Out Now

Members:

  • Benji Webbe – vocals,
  • Mikey Demus – guitar,
  • Daniel Pugsley – bass,
  • Arya Goggin – drums,

Track Listing:

  1. Our Religion  33
  2. Gimme That Boom  13
  3. Set Fazers  15
  4. Life That’s Free  58
  5. If I Could  29
  6. L.O.V.E (Smile Please)  3.08
  7. This Appointed Love  06
  8. Black Stars  00
  9. State Of The Union  50
  10. Addicted 31
  11. Mama 36
  12. Unstoppable 03

It’s official: the Newport Helicopter is back, bringing with it the gang of riotous reggae-rockers, determined to make us SMILE with their latest studio offering. Will it do just that? Let’s find out.

With their unique fusion of metal, reggae, electro and rock (aka their self-titled “ragga metal”) the Welsh quartet have built up a huge following since their arrival on the metal scene in 1998. “Smile”, their 8th studio album, has seen them depart from long-time producer James Loughrey to Julian Emery (producer of British rockers Nothing But Thieves’ 2015 debut). This album certainly has a lot to live up to, with “Big Tings” (2018) and “Volume” (2015) reaching numbers 1 and 2 respectively in the UK Metal Charts.

The band are terrifically tight, as you’d expect from being together for over 20 years, and as such “Smile” is chock-full of goodies from the get-go: crisp and punchy riffs, solid (if not particularly creative) drumming and bass lines that are funky and fun. But it’s the sheer power (and originality) of Benji Webbe’s vocals that are the standout element, and they hold everything together.

The opener, “Our Religion”, is a dark and heavy plod saturated with Webbe’s ragga vocal style and an attack of heavy riffage from Mikey Demus. The mood lifts as we head into “Gimme That Boom”: a pounding, in-yer-face assault with an infectiously catchy chorus, which is sure to be an instant crowd-pleaser.

 
“Set Fazers” contains a fantastic bass line, with drums and bass dominating in the verses and the guitar slamming in on the superb chorus. For me this is the best track on the album. There is a different sound entirely on “Life That’s Free”, where a keyboard intro leads into a frenetic jungle dance-beat. Here we’re treated to a display of Webbe’s vocal diversity as he departs from his usual growl to something more soulful. It’s not the best track for sure, but it showcases Skindred’s creativity.

“If I Could” is a song full of emotion. With furiously heavy riffs nicely contrasting with moments of calm and softer vocals, it’s definitely one of the standout tracks. We then move into the major track on the album, “L.O.V.E. (Smile Please)”, full of keyboard brass, reggae bounce and a truly feel-good vibe (and are those children singing backing vocals in the chorus?!). It’s great fun, where we are all encouraged to share the “L.O.V.E. love!”

Variety is definitely the spice of life on this album. “This Appointed Love” mixes a Two Tone groove with a bone-crunchingly heavy chorus; “Mama” is pure reggae; “State of the Union” delivers a hip-hop feel with a great funky bass line.

The closing track, “Unstoppable”, doesn’t end on quite the high-note that I was hoping for. It’s a solid track, but with a title like that I would have expected something a bit stronger.

There’s not much to dislike on this album, and the more you listen to it the more it grows on you. My one criticism is the lack of guitar solos – I would have liked it to include at least one or two to compliment the heavy riffing. But that doesn’t detract from the album’s energy and originality.

Skindred are, as Webbe said to one interviewer, “the alternative.” Their style is not for everyone, sure, but existing fans will love this album, and newbies might be pleasantly surprised. 

So, to answer my initial question: did it make me SMILE? Indeed it did, enough for me to award this a well-deserved…..

Score 8.5/10.

Reviewed by: Brian Parker

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