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Wednesday, 10 February 2010

SubVersion Stop 74: Case study 2 - Skindred - Shark Bites And Dog Fights

It's meaningful that an individual who's passion lies in ambience could be blown away by an eight-track "ragga metal" LP. "Shark Bites And Dog Fights", Skindred's second full-length excursion became an adrenalin rush worth its weight in gold. They've progressed since "Babylon" hit the shelves - with that the reggae overleaning was in, this time the cards are down, and it's maybe only the die-hards that stick around for their punt at ambitious, metallic propensity.

The band's first single from this edition, "Stand For Something", is amongst the strongest ammunition, and can be reinterpreted by noticed stresses on each syllable. "Stand for something, or you'll fall for anything" as a single phrase evokes inflammation of casually wavering lifestyle, whereas "if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything" is more intense, tipping odds in favour of those who fight for their beliefs to be heard.

The song, irrelevant of the rhetorically-minded message, manages to pacify its soapbox slur, cumbersome drum kicks and rave-like electric guitar confetti. Benji's soluble rhymes contrast the modus operandi of metal singers - that it's all about death, Satan, screaming as loud as you can, and denies contrivance.

Alienating Benji's Jamaican roots and chatty style is to destroy the nature of the beast. He doesn't resort to raggaman bombast, and knows how to stretch his voice in an appealing vista, even edging towards a comparison with Wailers singer Elan Atias at times.

The crossover market is a crutch to Skindred, however currently sparse. Despite performing under Kerrang's wing mainstream success hasn't transpired. Conventional paradoxes are tested - they use less to make more, with unfamiliarity breeding exhilaration, not contempt. That said, in a cocktail's view, overdoing a mixture can tear the recipe apart. You could say this when "You Can't Stop It" segues from "Stand For Something". Lyrically congruous yet polarised in narrative, you "watch the way we rock in the place and a we control it" as opposed to "caught in chains, shackles on too tight, squirming for your life 'cos you've gone and lost your freedom".

From repeated plays, there's a rigorous (but perhaps unintended) intellectual ploy: a switch from first to third-person, suggesting Skindred are indeed standing for something more righteous, that "you can't stop it", moreover, and although this is inherently part of the parcel - with risque genres bordering on inebriated noise - it's conducted with metaphors that align the group with their crossover heritage: " call the police if you-a-want to run" preceded with "'cos they're haters man they just drive me insane so" .

It's not all light before the darkness, though. Their cover of Eddie Grant's "Electric Avenue" feeds a monster riff to the original's chorus, spraying heavy guitar aerosol over the source material. It's toned down from the opening two tracks, yet even a whiskey addict would fail not to get enraptured by the stepping-stone groove and pithy lyrical hooks. "Calling All Stations" ups the pace with swaggering dialect: "can't tell me what to do i've got to turn it up, turn it up, turn it up now". That they do, with admirable gravitas.

My multi-context favourite on "Shark Bites and Dog Fights" has to be "Who Are You?" Applying a half-speed dub rhythm section under fading, echoed strumming, space is of importance towards warmth. If you're exposed in the afternoon, do you sit around and wait for someone to knock on your door? Of course not. Comparatively, you'd be deceived bearing soul wasn't a trigger for Benji's springing-out-of-nowhere closing speech: "flame can't be extinguished it's too great, can't kill my light" post-"who are you to kill my seeds before they grow?"

Instrumentation rattling shells does justice to Benji's situationist critique. Boardgames scrutinise team ethics - it's all about doing it for yourself and winning the hand. You could hypothesise that "so many just out for themselves, dressed in material wealth" on "Days Like These" condemns that predicament, except balance is relieved: "building new ways of work, you're breaking and bending the law, and who knows what's next, and what is in store" suggests to the listener "to look inside yourself you'll find the strength to carry on" - and maybe looking elsewhere in turn.

Sometimes if you try too hard, you can lose sight of what you're trying to achieve, which is why "Invincible" serves so well as reassurance. "Don't you know you couldn't test we, back off you're not ready, we run it that's the way it's gonna go, right now you're gonna let them know" is interspersed by chanted beckoning of the title. Seeing Skindred live, this goes down better for the massive charge that rivals Motorhead's "Ace Of Spades", but with more charisma through Benji's elevating and derailed vocal timbre. At one point he mutters "anybody move, they're gonna get hurt", then adopts a tone of balladry ("what are you gonna do?"), back to ragga territory ("get up off your knees and say"), honing his vocal chords throughout as if he's licking syrup off a dusty rug.

"Shark Bites And Dog Fights"' universalisty lies in its recital of modern chaos and challenge. It's quantifiable I've replayed it incessantly because of its rawness and emotional give and take. And it's perfect for addressing sleights of hand that pass us by or torment. Fallouts, subsequent bad feeling, putdowns - these scenario-speckled manifestations impact on us negatively first, and, if we're lucky, positively second. To assist change, the songs' mantras are aleviated through vigorous distractible energy and ebullient metal-turned-reggae penwork. Something that I stand for, which will be in my analytical framework for unknown measure.


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