IXXI - Skulls N Dust - (7.5/10)
Published on March 17, 2014
The years that have passed since 2009′s excellent Elect Darkness have not been kind to Swedish outlaws IXXI. After the album’s release, founding vocalist Totalscorn left the fold, leading to the band splitting at the seams. A year’s silence followed, culminating in a 2011 regrouping, with newcomer Outlaw eventually taking over vocal duties. Sadly, progress was again brutally halted when founding member Nattdal (Lifelover, Dimhymn, Ondskapt) was found dead after an overdose. With original bassist Avsky also having made his departure, the future looked increasingly hopeless for the once forceful black thrashers. Five years after their previous album, Skulls N Dust sees the band revitalized against all odds, with main-man Acerbus (Ondskapt) and sticksman Smoker being the only remaining longtime members.
With such a troubled history, one could hardly blame a band for trying something new as a means to move forwards. Not so with IXXI; Skulls N Dust picks up the pace almost precisely where Elect Darkness trailed off. The opening title track is brimming with grim samples, martial rhythms, and lots of squealing guitar leads. Dense blastbeats and industrial-sounding riffs mends with unrelenting blackened atmospheres, as Outlaw hacks and spits up some nasty-sounding bile. Where Totalscorn made deranged spoken word passages and manic laughter a trademark of sorts, his replacement is a more restrained beast. Outlaw isn’t a bad vocalist, but his growls feel rather generic compared to Totalscorn’s inimitable voice.
In my review of Elect Darkness, the term “black and roll” was thrown around. This time, IXXI have opted for a heavier and darker approach, abandoning the calculated slickness of its predecessor for a rawer sound reminiscent of what they did on Assorted Armament. That being said, Skulls N Dust still sounds enormously tight for a black thrash album, complemented by the band’s overtly brutalitarian aesthetics. Constantly rolling basslines and ominous riffs reek of urban decay and dystopian cityscapes. This sonic assault only lets up on closing number “B”, a somewhat unanticipated instrumental piece dedicated to the late Nattdal. An exceptional IXXI-track, the song goes off the beaten path and closes out the album on a high guitar-driven note.
Combining the tightness of Elect Darkness and the uncompromising thrash-influenced black metal of Assorted Armament, Skulls N Dust is a commendable feat for a band that some had considered dead and buried. The loss of vocalist Totalscorn has cost IXXI some of their distinctiveness, and the songwriting is occasionally repetitive, but with a strong set of songs they have proven themselves worthy of a second wind. Rather than being a cramped comeback or mere side-project, Skulls And Dust is a quality slice of malevolent black thrash metal.