SKINLAB
"Nerve Damage"

(Century Media)

For full track listing, visit Amazon.com.

RATING: 7/10

Despite having only three full albums in the can, these Bay Area die-hards have lovingly pieced together a two-disc celebration of their decade-long tenure, featuring demos, remixes, out-of-print EPs and all the kind of stuff lying around cassette drawers. Basically all the material you'd hope fans would go out and buy because they love you to the very bones. With a couple of new tracks thrown in to whet the palate.

With his boundless enthusiasm, frontman and mouthpiece Steev Esquivel certainly doesn't fall short in inspiring that kind of fan devotion, and because of that you can be sure that before you've even heard it, "Nerve Damage" will cover all bases.

Before dissecting some of the various retro bits and pieces here, it's worth stating that SKINLAB have yet to hit the dizzy heights of brilliance for this particular reviewer, despite all the potential within their myriad influences. The two brand-spanking-new cuts, "Losing All" and "Beneath the Surface", which head things up, are evidence of this, ploughing forward with riffs and quirks yet still not leaving an entirely indelible imprint on the brain. Above average without being amazing.

Furthermore, since they formed during the peak of mid-Nineties MACHINE HEAD fever, and hailed from the same area, SKINLAB have been landed with a "MACHINE HEAD Junior" tag. This is somewhat unfair because on some of the latter-day "reVolting room" tracks, in particular, the diversity is there for all to see. "Come Get It" is nicely warped and hails from the KILLING JOKE school of sonic brain-bending, whilst the catchy vocal thrust of "One of Us" is pure FAITH NO MORE, leaning on another aspect of the Bay Area sound that was bound to make some of the SKINLAB faithful grumble with disapproval. This is the dilemma facing many bands — damned if you stretch those creative wings, damned if you don't. Although there are not too many positives to be drawn from the OTT, scream-laden cover of SMASHING PUMPKINS' "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" and even less from the techno remix bestowed upon "Slave the Way". Is it just us, or does virtually every techno remix tear every last piece of soul from the original track?

Collectors will doubtless be enamoured to find the very first SKINLAB demo, "Suffer", lurking here, which eventually graduated to EP status. There are definite plusses here, especially in the maudlin atmospherics of "Noah" (an early sign that SKINLAB weren't going to be all volume and no texture), but also in many areas, such as the ironically titled "Stumble", this is very much the sound of a band finding their feet. As you'd expect, really. Pre-dating this, there are also two tracks from Steev's former band CIRCLE OF VENGEANCE, which this far down the line merely serve as a pleasant speed-thrash-flavoured curio — no better, no worse.

To cap it all off, there are several live tracks from the "4/20 Music Conspiracy" Bay Area festival last year — pounding and full of spirit, but ultimately always second best to the trim sounds of studio-crafted material.

Glancing over the entire contents of this compilation, stylistically-speaking SKINLAB have clearly achieved much compared to many other heavy bands across the spectrum. But you still feel there is more to come from them before people REALLY sit up and listen — and, without doubt, they're certainly capable of it. For now, though, this is a cool enough celebration of a band unwilling to plough the same old furrow ad infinitum.

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