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Scarred For Life

AOR Heaven (2015)
Rating: 9/10

Hands up, who remembers Swedish rockers Skintrade? Arguably another band which emerged at just the wrong time, they formed in 1992 and released their self-titled debut album in 1993. Although garnering rave reviews, it seemed to get swept away in the grunge furore. Even so, the band followed this opus up in 1995 with Roach Powder, and the act remained popular on the European circuit until folding later that year.

However, in 2014 Skintrade returned with the superb Refueled, an opus I glowingly praised right here for Metal Forces, and so to have them rolling into the ears once again is something I eagerly anticipated.

The band features the same line-up which made Refueled so glorious, with former Jagged Edge frontman Matti Alfonzetti (vocals / guitar) once again joined by Stefan Bergström (guitar), Håkan Calmroth (bass) and Håkan Persson (drums). And to couple this stability, Scarred For Life is just as good as its predecessor, offering up ten classy numbers.

The album begins with the bruising title track, which comes kicking and screaming with a trudging riff, pounding drum and Alfonzetti’s killer pipes. I said it before and I’ll say it again; Skintrade cannot be accused of playing an all too slight style of melodic rock. Instead, they make sure that every groove is meaty by nature and yet heavenly by design. Indeed, Skintrade are so potent as an act that they’ve raised the bar so high as to put so many other acts in that great big shadow they’ve cast.

Somehow the rhythms remain weighty and gloriously tuneful; the title track remains fluent but tinged with that metallic groove, complimented by such powerful vocals. I’m surprised that Alfonzetti never ended up working with bigger acts, and that’s testament to just how classy Skintrade is; marrying a soulful vibe with a classic rock premise mostly and then tingeing the sound with a contemporary, almost grunge-laced efficiency. ‘Scarred For Life’ is an upbeat rocker which seems so simple from the outset, but such is the metallic groove of that riff you realise that here’s a band that doesn’t have to adhere to trend but can merely exist on its variation, sincerity and energy.

‘Goodbye’ may suggest with its title that it’s a token ballad, but far from it; again the powerhouse riffing comes to the fore and complemented by the bruising percussion of Persson.

I’m constantly bemoaning the weightless and soulless vocals of Sixx A.M.’s James Michael, and Alfonzetti has the sort of pipes that bands of that ilk are sorely missing; his rich tones could fit into a majority of bands, but with Persson, Calmroth and Bergström there’s an obvious cohesion which means that as a unit Skintrade can do no wrong.

Each track floats effortlessly and you’ll be humming them immediately, whether in the form of contemporary grind of the Max Martin penned ‘Wide Awake’ (the sort of song Mötley Crüe could only have dreamed of writing in 1997), which – shock, horror – was first recorded by female pop wailer Katy Perry, the cool, sassy swagger of ‘Lay With Me’, which is pure soulful metal, and the floating ‘Find A Way’.

So that’s five perfect tracks which make up the first half of this exquisite opus. Indeed, I’ve played the first half of the album so much that I almost forgot there was another half to come, and what better way to continue than with the bluesy, sun-drenched grunge of ‘LoveHate’ and the edgy strut of ‘Leave A Scar’ with its weighty stomp.

One feels that Skintrade could cover any aspect of the music spectrum and they’d always create something respectable. No real surprise then to hear the greyer strains of ‘Broken’; probably my least favourite tune on the record if only because it appears too downbeat and glossy, and yet it features a killer bass performance. However, any flaw is soon crushed by a million positives; the crushing ‘Storm Will Come’ is a monumental chugger which is Alfonzetti and Bergström at their best, and working wonderfully in tandem with Persson’s heroic drum gestures. Again, seemingly so simple and yet joyously effective and soulful, before the finale of ’15 Minutes Gone’, which begins with a plundering bass and sporadic drum trundle before chugging like some mid-to-late 90s undiscovered grunge-tinged classic. For me, it’s a perfectly bluesy and yet oh so juddering way to end an album which cements Skintrade into folklore as another band who should be absolutely huge.

Scarred For Life is very much music for the now. It’s not reflective, nostalgic or even futuristic, but if you’re after meaty melodic rock expressing subtlety, soul and sizzling energy then this must surely be your next purchase.

Neil Arnold

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