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AOR Heaven (2014)
Rating: 9/10

Having formed way back in the early 90s, Swedish rockers Skintrade make a welcome return to the rock ’n’ roll fray with their new 12-track stomper Refueled.

Like so many bands this Stockholm quartet has had its ups and downs over the years, with 1993 seeing the band release their self-titled debut opus to critical acclaim and touring the world with renowned artists such as Motörhead and D-A-D. A Tomas Skogsberg-produced follow-up album, Roach Powder, appeared in 1995, but then in the blink of an eye Skintrade were gone.

Whispers of a reunion for Skintrade however began in 2011 with the band reuniting and realising quickly that the old magic was still there, and so two years later Refueled is the result. The band consists of founding members Matti Alfonzetti (vocals / guitar), Stefan Bergström (guitar), Håkan Calmroth (bass) and Håkan Persson (drums), and after just a few spins it’s clear that Skintrade are back in business.

From the clanking chug of opener ‘Monster’, Skintrade rock with effortless charm, combining melodic rock and punchy rhythms with soaring vocals and hardy percussion. Clearly not fazed by how much the world of metal has changed, Skintrade have simply injected extra attitude, swagger and kick to an already potent formula. “I need a shot again” demands Alfonzetti over a ploughing riff and dashing drum, ‘Monster’ being the perfect way to introduce Skintrade to old and new fans alike.

‘Liar’ continues that trend with a cool groove based on shuffling drums and another stabbing riff. Already the album is infectious, kicking hard and so self-assured, ‘Liar’ being a raunchy rock ’n’ roll classic that melts into the chugging monstrosity that is ‘Pay In Blood’, which for me sums up the sound of Skintrade – a grunge-tinged melodic rocker that’s hard-hitting in its structure yet harmonious throughout. Alfonzetti has such a breezy vocal croon which works well with the heavy yet fluid guitar sound.

However, you know that with a title like ‘Hardcore MF Heartattack’ these guys aren’t merely here to provide us with a ray of sunshine. ‘Hardcore…’ has a darker edge, exhibiting a sleazy arrogance, but this is no surprise considering Alfonzetti has spent much of his career working with bands such as Jagged Edge, Bam Bam Boys, Western Front (pre-21 Guns) and the like, proving to be a rock ’n’ roll stalwart when it comes to being involved with punchy yet melodic bands. ‘Hardcore MF Heartattack’ for all of its pomp is probably my favourite track on an album that winds along like a seemingly approachable snake, yet one with enough bite to take down its prey.

The accessibility comes via the subtle strains of tracks such as the gorgeous ‘Close My Eyes’, which has such a breathtaking quality, hinting at that early 90s alternative rock scene which spawned the likes of Saigon Kick and various kaleidoscopic grunge bands.

Although Skintrade rarely resort to solely lighter numbers, I’d love to hear them take the time to record a few ballad-esque numbers. But hey, when you’ve got such strong material as ‘Getting Away With Murder’ and the strutting ‘Mountain’ there seems little room for reflective lullabies. Both these numbers provide a rigid central point for this immense record, and around such sweltering beasts we experience the sweeping ‘Been To The Bottom’ – a sensual, almost bluesy strain reminding me of the soulful melodies of John Corabi.

‘Worse Than Wasted’ kicks in with a killer riff and robust bass which are both caressed by Alfonzetti’s presence. But just when you think the album can’t get any better, our ears are met by the ascending chords of ‘Dying In Your Arms’ and the brilliant groove of ‘Wild One’, which is as immense as modern rock can get. Of course, the big issue is that when the closing ‘Look Me In The Eye’ finishes rumbling, we’re left giddy yet gagging for another spin.

Coupled with fantastic production values Refueled gives me faith in the current rock scene, because while it still nods to the early 90s for innovation, this is a record of such brilliance and shine. Hard to fault, Skintrade have to make sure that they don’t succumb to the pressures and problems which put pay to them before, because these guys are clearly talented songwriters who have combined ballsy rock ’n’ roll with elements of sleaze, glam and traditional metal but injected it with a streak of colour.

As each track on Refueled rolls by I can’t help but think of those glorious early 90s when the heavy metal scene moved out of the denim ’n’ leather and suddenly became a beast refreshed. Skintrade should have spearheaded that original spurt, but sadly didn’t. However, now is their time to glow.

Neil Arnold

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