SKINHER – Heartstruck

As the name suggests, Skinher is a project helmed by bassist Kyle Skinher, also of prog metal band Hail Spirit Noir. In the main, this band couldn’t be further removed from his “day job”, since it abandons most proggy aspects and the heavier end of the metal spectrum in favour of some massive haired, retro hard rock thrills. Kyle claims the influences come from the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen and everyone’s favourite Ghost, but the truth is that the best parts of ‘Heartstruck’ are even more retro – and sometimes more melodic than both. This is a record that really taps into the melodic rock and metal sounds of yesteryear, to the point where you’d expect to find it propping up the release schedule on a label like Frontiers Records.

Its ten numbers explore a range of melodic metal styles, and when the tunes work, you can hear the spirit of a band who are clearly loving the creative process. This is especially the case with ‘Josephine’, a tune that wears its AOR/melodic rock heart proudly on its sleeve. From the opening wave of keyboards and clean guitars, its possible to hear elements of the more melodic McAuley-Schenker material crossed with something like Crimson Glory, and the arrival of a bigger riff hints at the more melodic parts of Yngwie’s ‘Odyssey’ album, albeit with a bigger harmony vocal. It’s great old school rock from the get go, and by the time the second half of the track indulges in bigger riffs, a raft of demonic voices and – best of all – several bars of twin lead guitar, you can definitely hear more of the Malmsteen influence coming through. Equally good, ‘He Sees You’ stokes up the horror themes by including even more treated voices, guitar and keyboard riffs that tease with fairground melodies that wouldn’t be out of place in an 80s slasher flick, and powers everything through a really punchy drum part. The middle of the track delivers more full throttle 80s melodic metal with traces of Keel and King Kobra, but none of that matches the slow soaring riffs used to introduce the piece, which fall somewhere between melodic Judas Priest, Iron Maiden circa 1988 and the oft overlooked Icon. In terms of showcasing some solid players, this instrumental does a fine job in just three and a half minutes.

The enjoyable ‘Night Cull’ opens with a riff that would make John Carpenter blush before exploding into a world of sub Judas Priest riffs. That gives the track a powerful launching point, and it continues to be fun musically – at least in a mid 80s way – despite being half killed by some terrible lyrics concerning vengeance being near, confessing your sins and meeting your maker. It might be one of the only metal songs to source a lyric from the old phrase “sorting the wheat from the chaff”. Tongues are clearly in cheeks here, and with such firmness that anything funny sort of sounds deadly earnest, so it’s best to ignore the lyrics if you can. Luckily, the retro metal hammers through at such a pace that the band still sounds impressive, and by the time Kyle shoehorns in a bendy keyboard solo, things couldn’t possibly get any more overblown. The equally silly ‘Self Eating Creatures’ presents guitar riffs that are closer to the trashy hard rock of Hell In The Club at first, combined with another theatrical hook where descending harmonies pull from a rather stagey feel, but again, most of the music is strong enough to balance out any self-indulgence. About half way through, though, the band takes everything up a notch in order for the assembled guitarists to impress with a full array of metal chops. Whether powering through more melodic leads or going the full Ring of Fire at full pelt route, nothing feels out of place, but it does start to feel a little tiring by the time the final chorus arrives with even more oomph.

For those still looking for more horror thrills colliding with a retro metal base, ‘The Maniac Is Back’ opts for a more tuneful mid tempo where chopping guitars underscore a hushed vocal and busy drum groove loaded with cool tom fills. It’s here, with a world of 80s synths and mellotron sounds fleshing out a rocker with an old heart, that any Ghost comparisons will be most strongly felt, whilst ‘You’re Next!’ supplies jagged riffs intercut with shrill leads during another strong intro, before settling into something that sounds like one of Paul Sabu’s better songs – with much better vocals, obviously – allowing Skinher plenty of opportunity for chugging guitar lines overlaid with call and response vocal hooks and yet another blistering solo. Sure, it’s predictable, but it’s well played…and that’ll be enough for older metal fans to find it enjoyable.

Throughout this record, Skinher (the band) parties like it’s 1987 and brings rock and metal fans the horror themed album that Fans of The Dark wishes they could make. It’s a massively unfashionable step to take in 2023 even if Ghost have influenced the bits of the outcome, yet at the same time, there’s something pleasingly nostalgic about its strongest tunes. A couple of the songs are very much somewhere in the third division, but like Alex Meister’s ‘Rock And A Hard Place’, everything comes from a place of love, and that counts for a lot. It would be remiss to call this a brilliant or unmissable example of the style, but those who still love big haired thrills and melodic metal riffs that celebrate 80s moods will certainly find something to enjoy among this disc’s eight retro rockers.

March 2023