If Raleigh hardcore has a sound, the first 10 seconds of Skemäta's full-length debut summarize it. A rumbling bass-line frayed with distortion clears space for a stinging guitar chord and a scabrous pick-slide. The mass drops suddenly into the surging riff of "What Lies Ahead." Plenty of hardcore bands have employed this kind of chaotic opening, but it's offered meticulously here, with special attention to tone and timing. Those calculated qualities betray Skemäta's mastery of their chosen style.
In that moment, the young quartet offers not only a clear teaser of the purposeful hardcore that follows but also a bid to be local hardcore's next standard-bearer. While Raleigh's greater punk scene has grown varied and vibrant, with Whatever Brains' art-pop madness, Davidians' curt post-punk and No Love's jagged pop all drawing broader attention, Skemäta stands fast for heavy, no-frills hardcore.
Guitarist Jeff Young and bassist Alex Taylor started Skemäta after their previous band, Stripmines, broke up. They enlisted drummer Cameron Craig (also of Davidians, and formerly Double Negative's singer) and singer Usman Khan to complete this roster. The foursome's collective résumé reads like a Who's Who of Raleigh hardcore, with time spent in Logic Problem, Double Negative, Abuse., Mercy Killings and Last Words. Their veteran panache and expansive influences, though, are more emblematic of the new band's punch than any insular scene bona fides. In effect, Skemäta has extracted the highlights from scores of punk experiences and records—hints of melody and heaps of noise, played with smart pacing and subtle embellishments—and discarded the weaknesses.
The band's four-song demo offered a strong indication of as much, but their debut LP, recorded in Greensboro at Legitimate Business, gives Skemäta a more convincing treatment. These songs are exercises in contradictions—fast but controlled, vicious but never brutish, precise but not polished. The result is tight, forceful and masterful. With its melodic guitar lead, "Game of War" suggests early Los Angeles bands like the Adolescents or T.S.O.L., but its steamrolling low-end and bullying distortion are nastier than that. Khan's vocals carry the song with a dry, indecipherable roar. "Germ Warfare in the 1500s" interrupts its d-beat charge with barbed guitars and rhythmic tension. The brief, ripping solo that surprises during "Stagnant" leaves the song feeling anything but.
Skemäta's debut stems from veteran musicians pushing against routines. Rather than abandon their genre's foundations, as bands that grow out of hardcore often do, Skemäta has lovingly refurbished the 30-year-old structures with modern features. Skemäta not only adds flashes of novel approaches to old ways but deliver rare balance and dexterity, too. This is an exciting, urgent and new high water mark for local hardcore. —Bryan C. Reed
Label: Sorry State Records
This article appeared in print with the headline "Connecting flights."