Album review: Skindred – Smile

Ragga-metal mainstays Skindred crank the attitude and stack up a few more anthems on irrepressible eighth album Smile…

Album review: Skindred – Smile
Sam Law

The odds have always felt stacked against Skindred. A band of misfits from a dank corner of Wales whose spring-loaded brand of ragga-metal emerged at the tail-end of the nu-metal boom, few would have bet on them having grown into one of the UK’s most stubbornly beloved bands two decades down the line. Yet here we are. When Five Finger Death Punch (by all counts, one of the biggest acts in heavy music) dropped out of Download 2023, Newport’s finest were on hand to save the day – and you’d be hard pushed to find a single punter who felt short-changed.

Arriving five years after 2018’s swaggering Big Tings, eighth album Smile feels like a rumination on why exactly its authors have achieved such popularity and longevity. The shamanistic stomp of Our Religion reinforces frontman Benji Webb’s press-note assertion that, 'You’ve got to live a life to make this music.' Tapping into the slipshod lightness-of-touch of latter-day Enter Shikari, Life That’s Free is a shameless celebration of existence, and art, without boundaries. Brilliantly breezy highlight L.O.V.E. (Smile Please) cranks the reggae influence to effortlessly affirmative effect.

Indeed, Benji’s decision to return to pre-’Dred project Dub War for last year’s Westgate Under Fire seems to have narrowed focus back onto the original ragga-metal formula here. The socio-political punch has carried over, too, elevating the woozy cool of This Appointed Love, before supercharging a wonderfully percussive Black Stars and funky highlight State Of The Union. Hardcore fans need not fear any drastic change, of course. Having already shed five singles – the brilliant Gimme That Boom dropping all the way back in November 2022 – Smile has the self awareness to crank up all the trademark colour and bounce we’ve come to demand.

If anything, it feels like those attributes are integral to Skindred’s existence now more than ever. Surfing and swivelling with irreverent aplomb around his bandmates' springy riffs on Addicted, Benji sounds like he’d struggle to unplug from this energy even if he wanted to. Mama, meanwhile, taps into their depthless reserves of simmering soul. As fists-in-the-air chorus to Smile’s closing track so emphatically stresses, these lads really are Unstoppable.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Dub War, Enter Shikari, FEVER 333

Smile is released on August 4 via Earache

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