On 2007's "Malice", THROUGH THE EYES OF THE DEAD had truly arrived and came into its own as a lethal modern death metal machine. Save for very slight traces of 'core here and there, mostly due to a certain, somewhat deceptive, "sound" that has been developed by a new generation of death metal musicians, this was the sound of a unit firing on all cylinders. Everything just clicked, from the surgically precise attack to the addictive riff-crunch to the dark melodies that found inspiration from bands like CANNIBAL CORPSE, yet were run through the gears of the machine in a way that lessened the degree of derivativeness. Erik Rutan's production contributed in a big way too. Chemistry is one of the "X" factors in the creation of a memorable album and the South Carolina quintet had it, which is why it was so disheartening to read that the act had ultimately lost three-fifths of the members that played on "Malice". The big questions were (a) would the group survive to record another album; and (b) assuming they were able to regroup how would the subsequent album compare to its impressive predecessor.
The answer to the first question is obvious, or you wouldn't be reading this review. After a period of instability, new guys Danny Rodriguez (vocals), Chris Henckle (guitar), and Michael Ranne (drums) ended up recording "Skepsis" with veterans Justin Longshore (guitar) and Jake Ososkie (bass). The answer to the second question will probably surprise most of you as much as it surprised me. "Skepsis" is a worthy follow-up to "Malice". Most could never tell that "Skepsis" was recorded by a completely revamped lineup, save for a vocal approach from Rodriguez whose growl is only moderately different (and nearly as powerful) from former member Nate Johnson, yet whose upper range changeups are in a much higher register (think Trevor Strnad) compared to Johnson's mid-range switches.
Those higher register vocals, which are used to a greater extent on this album compared to "Malice", constitute my only, albeit comparatively minor, complaint about "Skepsis". The style employed here is so prevalent nowadays that its emphasis on "Skepsis" becomes a tad redundant in terms of both familiarity and, to a lesser extent, patterning. Much of that probably has to do with the fact that I've grown a little tired of hearing the style on so many albums recorded by acts other than THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER. In short, Johnson's alternate vocals are more effective.
The vocals aside, "Skepsis" works for much the same reason that "Malice" does. The songs are modern in approach, yet still deferential to the masters, utilizing lots of crunching and chunked up riffs, earth moving and fleet-footed double-bass work, and an overall songwriting approach that keeps it brutal, yet retains a significant sense of melody in the structures that often derives from those sinister-sounding leads, which in some places remind in a vague sense of the latest work from BENEATH THE MASSACRE. And the reference to the "masters" comes from the various moments throughout the album where one hears a pronounced CANNIBAL CORPSE influence in the nefarious tones (e.g. "Dementia") and, though not quite as obvious, in those thick 'n crunching serpent riffs first made famous by MORBID ANGEL (tell me you can't hear at list a little of "Gateways to Annihilation" on "No Haven"). Finally, you'll also be surprised to find that "Skepsis" is a self-produced effort. While it is not quite on par with that of Erik Rutan's work on "Malice", it is surprisingly robust.
In the end, "Malice" gets the nod over "Skepsis", but not by a wide margin. Both are strong efforts. The good news is that, for the most part, THROUGH THE EYES OF THE DEAD picked up right where they left off before the member hemorrhage.