Totem Skin is a six-piece band from Sweden that claims to be hardcore. Being from America, I first thought of your typical hardcore bands here such as Gorilla Biscuits or Expire; then I remembered the vast cultural differences and realized that hardcore, often used as a general term, most likely sounded much different there and possibly carried a completely different connotation. When I first spun Totem Skin's new album, Still Waters Run Deep, I quickly realized that this was definitely one of those cases. It seems that Totem Skin draws on some traditional hardcore influences here and there and also utilizes black metal. Still Water Runs Deep is set to be released under Dog Knights Production later this year.
The first track, titled "Kargt Landskap," – or "Barren Landscape" (Thank you, Google Translate) – begins with a dark, gloomy introduction that only lasts about forty-five seconds before it kicks into life and hits you hard with deafening drums, driving guitars and demonic screams. From the get-go, all I could here was chaotic hardcore band Converge meeting black metal. There are plenty of chaotic hardcore elements that you can easily pick out such as the vocals and fast-paced drumming, but Totem Skin also maintains some aspects of black metal like the atmospheric guitar riffs. However, this first track doesn't showcase too much of what the band can achieve. Constantly switching between heavy, grind metal sounds to softer, generic atmospheric sections, this track loses my attention pretty swiftly. Overall, "Kargt Landskap" is pretty bland and forgettable.
The title track, on the other hand, makes up for everything that the first one could not do. "Still Waters Run Deep" may only clock in at just over two minutes, but these two minutes are tightly packed with piercing screaming, crunching guitars and ear-splitting drumming. Towards the end of the track there is yet another part where the tempo slows down dramatically and loses my interest. The next track, "Romans," is just as short but also just as brutal – if not more so. One track especially worth noting is "At the Forest's Edge." The guitar work and the vocals on this track are the best on the album and it adds a lot more depth. At the end of the final track, "Seasons," there is a very long sound clip which I would usually find irritating, but this particular clip is from Silent Hill 2 which equals bonus points from me. Listening to the entire thing is worth it because after it, Still Waters Run Deep ends with screaming that sent chills down my entire body.
One odd thing that I noticed was that the track times on Still Waters Run Deep were anywhere between two minutes on some songs to twelve minutes on others. This doesn't subtract from the quality of the album, but I found it to be a little unusual. All in all, the production on the album could have been loads better. At times, the drumming and guitars were fighting to be heard over each other while the vocals were left to drown. Another thing is that when the tempo slowed down, there was so much potential for other things to be done, yet these slow sections tended to become repitive, lengthy and just filler between two fast-paced sections. Something more should be done with them or they should be left out completely.
Totem Skin does a fantastic job combining the two genres of chaotic hardcore and black metal together. If you are a fan of bands such as Converge, The Chariot, and Deafheaven, be sure to go give Totem Skin a listen. They are streaming their full album (link below) and if you like what you hear, go give them some support!