Skindred have always been something of a unique beast. The band blend a whole range of styles, from their core sound of rock and reggae, to incorporating techno beats and effects into the mix, even dabbling in the conventions of dubstep and hip-hop. It is this distinctive style that has allowed Skindred to carve out their own niché and fan base, who will no doubt be pleased with what Benji Webbe and his crew have created here, though maybe not particularly surprised.
‘Union Black’ as an album is Skindred‘s address on the state of the British nation, a topic that has been becoming more and more popular over recent years. Although unlike the pitch black offering from Gallows on ‘Grey Britain’ and the restless and riotous The King Blues on their most recent release ‘Punk & Poetry’, Skindred bring their up-beat, reggae-fused metal and imbue their subject matter with a real sense of hope and optimism.
The band kicks things off with the title track, a reworking of the national anthem in their own inimitable style, with a blasting dance beat and dub bass ramping the tempo and the energy right up, before leading directly into lead single, ‘Warning’. It is a strong opening salvo and a typical Skindred track, leaning more towards their more accessible nu-metal edge. Next is ‘Cut Dem’, which begins with a subdued, dubstep-influenced verse before exploding in the chorus. Knife crime is a personal issue for Benji Webbe, whose son was recently stabbed, and this raw emotion can be heard in the lyrics and the passion with which the frontman delivers his words.
‘Doom Riff’ signals a change in styles again, and a definite shift in feel. Dropping the tempo down and ramping the groove factor way up, this is one of the more dance-able tracks on ‘Union Black’, and even has a couple of crowd pleasing “woah”s in there for good measure. It’s incredibly infectious and will surely become a live favourite. ‘Guntalk’ brings a few rays of sunshine into the mix with catchy lyrics and a bopping syncopated guitar riff before ‘Get It Now’ blasts out in a bombastic shower of tech effects and swaggering rhythms. It is easily one of the best tracks on the album, with Benji and Mikey Demus (guitar and backing vocals) putting in a great vocal performance.
It isn’t a completely flawless album though. Sometimes, Skindred‘s song writing feels a little bit flat, such as on ‘Own You’ and ‘Make Your Mark’. Both of these tracks occur in the middle of the album, and after such a strong start they are somewhat of a momentum-killer. Luckily, a strong ending in ‘Bad Man Ah Bad Man’ and ‘Game Over’ means that ‘Union Black’ ultimately ends on a high.
Of course this is only a minor point; all albums have their weaker moments, and these tracks are easily outnumbered by the other songs on offer here. ‘Union Black’ is the sound of Skindred continuing to develop their style. Admittedly they don’t break much new ground here, but the album is a definite improvement over previous releases. If you’re a fan of Skindred or just looking for something a little out of the ordinary, pick this one up.
Written by Grant Bailey