A bleak air of finality hangs heavy on the Skull Defekts' self-titled fifth album. Following their 2014 release Dances in Dreams of the Known Unknown, things shifted dramatically for the band, with frequent collaborator Daniel Higgs and longtime band member Jean-Louis Huhta both stepping away from the project. Skull Defekts founder Joachim Nordwall stated he knew the band was finished the first day he stepped into the studio to begin work on what would become this album, but also knew there was a final chapter to the group's story he had to write. Going into the creative process knowing it was the swan song for a long-running project certainly alters the energy of the final product, and here an already intense group sound like they're fighting for their lives on every track. Previous releases found dark industrial rock influences clashing interestingly with dub production touches and the occasional cosmic undertow. The spiritual/cosmic currency was amplified greatly whenever Daniel Higgs dropped in with one of his manic shamanistic sermons, and his absence immediately changes the sound here. Adding to this marked sonic change are the vocal and musical contributions of Mariam Wallentin of Wildbirds & Peacedrums, sitting in on this album and adding mysterious character to standout tracks like the decaying "Slow Storm" or the sludgy duet of "Powdered Faces." Even in the rare moments of less aggressive playing, any semblance of lightness or spiritual reaching that may have previously tempered the ugliness of the group's experimental angst is gone. Instead, the band funnel all the tension and discomfort of knowing the curtain is closing on a long-running project into these eight razor-sharp songs. This manifests in the form of straight-ahead noise rock on tracks like "All Thoughts Thoughts" and "Clean Mind," which both find the band stitching together pulsing, minimal drums and demented riffing with bursts of electronic noise. They push things even further into the red on penultimate track "A Message from the Skull Defekts." This instrumental death rock meditation starts out so distorted that the individual instruments are blurred into each other and pile on layers of noise from there. Imagining Swans drunkenly jamming with Burned Mind-era Wolf Eyes comes close to the level of depravity the track achieves. Final track "The Beauty of Creation and Destruction" feels like an epilogue to both the album and the band as a whole, marking the conclusion of 13 years spent wrestling with contrasting impulses of anger and peace. Fittingly, this final chapter for the Skull Defekts is easily the most explosive, most elaborately conceived, and still fully realized work in their catalog, and a monolithic note to go out on.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas