Excommunicated's debut album Skeleton Key would seem to suggest that the band approached the writing and recording of this album with great ambition. The guitar lead that comes in about halfway through that track, "The Abandonment of Hope" is all you need to hear to know that this is some seriously heavy death metal. At this point, you're intrigued. When you figure out that the album's theme is the corruption, abuse, and perversity of the Medieval Catholic church, it's impossible to stop listening to. I admit I've always been a fan of the much maligned "concept album," but it's not something you expect from a band on their initial offering. But by the time you've finished listening to the album, you know that the ambition has paid great dividends, as the band has crafted a uniquely intense, dark, and intelligent album.
Louisiana's Excommunicated formed just about a year and a half ago in early 2010, from the ashes of several fallen Louisiana death metal bands. Shortly after the formation of the band, this album was written and recorded, but by no means does it sound like it was rushed. Make no mistake - this is through and through a death metal album, but there are various styles at play that give the album a more hypnotic and infectious feel. At times, there are black metal tendencies at work, adding intensity and passion to the songs; the slower, more doom-laden moments remind you that this is very sober and reflective music, while the few instances that the band thrashes a bit gives just a hint of that old-school feel that a lot of death metal bands miss entirely.
But the atmosphere is what gives Skeleton Key the killer instinct that sets it apart from even some of the better death metal albums. Sure, "atmosphere" is an overused term, even in death metal,but the real shame is that bands tend to overdo it and end up sounding corny and contrived. Definitely not the case here. The keys and samples are just about perfect; in fact, the album's weakest song, "Cry to Heaven" (which is really only weak for the first 45 seconds or so), could actually benefit from some more keys. The darkness of the album is highly enhanced by the keys at all the right times, and some well-placed film samples keep the subject matter of the album at the forefront. These guys clearly mean business when it come to that very subject matter - they know their history and it has served them well. They've torn Catholicism apart in a manner way more mature than many other bands would. The lyrics are cutting and hateful yet thoughtful and astute. Even poetic at times.
Definitely one of my favorite death albums, and one that I will come back to over and over again. More people need to know about this band, because if they get the support they need and deserve, I can see big things in store for them. You can buy the CD now from UW Records on eBay.