Self confessed ‘nerd metal’ group Skeletoon formed from the ashes of Helloween tribute group Jack-o’-Lantern in 2011. Led by founder Tomi Fooler, they fired out two albums of highly melodic and memorable power metal over a 15 month period between January 2016 and March 2017. It’s taken a little longer for the third album to drop, but for fans of the Italian quintet (and the genre as a whole), I’m sure they’ll find They Never Say Die to have been worth the wait.
After a brief spoken intro, Skeletoon launch into “Hell-O” without an ounce of subtlety, splashing their power metal canvas with a bright, speedy mix of double bass drums, melodic guitar lines and soaring vocals. It’s everything detractors loathe and fans love about this particular branch of the genre, with the pomp cranked up to eleven as heaps of choirs pile on for the first of many catchy choruses. “Hoist Our Colors” is a darker, mid paced march that still manages to remain upbeat in spite of its perilous undertones; its slower style giving it a greater sense of scope than most of the album’s fleet footed cuts. Late album cut “When Legends Turn Real” is the only other track that really takes on this sort of approach, with its more obtuse melodies a little out of place after a flood of upbeat songs. The group stumble slightly through the song’s mid section, but once the solo passage kicks in, it’s smooth sailing ahead as the quality shines through.
Really though, the colourful songs (which make up the majority of the record) are where Skeletoon really excel. Anyone who is a fan of lively, chorus centric material in the vein of early Sonata Arctica, early 00s Edguy / Avantasia, Freedom Call etc will really find a lot to love about They Never Say Die. “The Truffle Shuffle Army” (yes that’s a Goonies reference – one of many) has one of the most delectable hooks I’ve heard in many a year, with the keyboard led title track almost going off the scale in catchiness too. The simple, compact nature of “The Chain Master” and the twinkling “Last Chance” scale back the pace but still pulsate with boundless energy, whilst the strong vocal lines give a little life to the otherwise tepid ballad “To Leave a Land”. Vocalist Tomi Fooler gives it his all throughout, with his blend of power and finesse elevating the already excellent songs to higher planes. There are a fair few guest singers on many songs, all of whom also put in a good shift, although none really excel or give themselves a measure of distinction in the way Fooler does.
Two covers tracks round off the album. The first is a faithful take on Avantasia’s superb “Farewell” that unfortunately lacks a bit of the swing of the original. The heavy metal spin on Cyndi Lauper’s tune “Goonies R Good Enough” is more ambitious, taking the ‘80s synth pop template and upping the tempo and fun factor. Putting them both at the end of the record may give the impression that they’re a mere bonus or afterthought tacked on to the end, but whilst neither are among the highlights, they’re both worthy of being considered proper album tracks.
Skeletoon are not really on the mainstream metal radar, but power metal devotees will likely recognise the name. If the incredibly catchy variety of the genre is your thing, then this album is an absolute must. If not, then I’d urge you to give it a chance anyway, as despite playing up to the style’s tropes,it’s masterfully done without being too excessive or cheesy. When all is said and done, it wouldn’t surprise me to see this album pop up on some end of year lists as 2019 draws to a close.
Highlights: “The Truffle Shuffle Army”, “They Never Say Die”, “Last Chance”
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