As we walk into Pizzanista to grab a couple of slices before our interview with members of Whittier death-metal group Skeletal Remains, it is appropriate that Diamond Head's “It's Electric” is blaring over the DTLA restaurant's sound system. The heavy metal genre has splintered off into dozens of subgenres and sub-subgenres, but the classic, well-worn cornerstones endure as they have always done.
If you're a longtime death-metal fan who can remember the days when the Roadrunner Records logo on a sleeve meant you could likely buy without hearing it and walk away with a top-quality metallic bludgeoning, the sounds and influences behind the raw brutality of Skeletal Remains should come as no surprise.
“Our main influences would be Pestilence, Demolition Hammer and a lot of the ’80s/’90s Florida stuff, like Obituary, Malevolent Creation and Death,” says guitarist/vocalist Chris Monroy.
The latest album from Skeletal Remains, titled Devouring Mortality and out this week, easily could have fit along those genre benchmarks. The group's third record continues their slavish worship for the death metal of yesteryear. Everything from Monroy's raspy howls and shredding guitar solos and thunderous bass from Adrian Marquez to the album artwork and band logo is a throwback, as if death metal went into stasis in 1992 while Earache Records still had a distribution deal with Columbia. Skeletal Remains are an antithesis to the modern wave of death metal that places more of a focus on technicality than brutality.
“There are some bands that take the technicality overboard and cause their music to lose its feeling,” Monroy says. “I just think in the end you need to focus on catchy riffs. You need to have a good balance, which I think we do.”
The group started initially as a two-man demo project in 2011, under the name Anthropophagy. Monroy had been playing guitar in local thrash metallers Fueled by Fire but sought an outlet for a more guttural metallic sound. Marquez — an old childhood friend who had moved to Texas with his family — had heard music from the demo and returned to California to join up and form the guitars-and-bass attack that has characterized the band's sound since. The group then changed their name to Skeletal Remains, as an ode to a lyrical passage from Demolition Hammer's “Human Dissection,” a track from their 1992 record Epidemic of Violence.
Once the demo was released, the newly formed band made their rounds and built a name locally on the busy Los Angeles backyard metal show circuit. For a little over a year, if you wandered into a backyard death-metal show, Skeletal Remains very likely were set up onstage.
“We did the whole backyard thing all over the place, in Compton, South Gate, South Central, East L.A.; we were doing two or three shows a week,” Monroy says. “We just played all the time.”
The group's demo caught the attention of German heavy metal label F.D.A. Records, which released the band's first two records, 2012's Beyond the Flesh and 2015's Condemned to Misery. A European tour soon followed in 2013, along with appearances at European heavy metal festivals such as Germany's PartySan Open Air Festival and Brutal Assault in the Czech Republic. The group enjoyed playing the backyard shows but were more than content to move and become a more professional band.
“The one thing I hated about backyard shows was that you would take all of the time to set up, start playing the first song, and then the cops would show up,” Marquez says.
“There was one show we were playing where we didn't even notice the cops,” Monroy says. “The cop was hitting Adrian's guitar with a nightstick, but we didn't notice it because we were headbanging along with the song we were playing.”
The backyard days of Skeletal Remains are long behind them, with a European tour coming up in May and local club shows on the schedule as well. They tour infrequently due to family commitments — Monroy has a 2-year-old son and Obregon has two daughters, ages 3 and 1 — but when they do, it's for a gig that means a lot to them personally.
One such performance was last month's Manitoba Metal Fest. The group trekked north of the border to Winnipeg to play alongside one of their heroes. Early-’90s New York death-metal act Demolition Hammer headlined the second night of the festival, with Skeletal Remains performing as direct support.
“The best part was seeing our band logo right below theirs,” Marquez says.
For all of the opportunities Skeletal Remains have had to see the world through death metal, it is Los Angeles where the group feel most comfortable performing, despite some qualms and misgivings about the local scene.
“Los Angeles is bipolar as fuck,” Monroy says. “It's kind of a weird scene. It's all over the place. A lot of people follow rumors more than music. But this is where we're from, so we love it. Sometimes we play to a dozen people, sometimes we play to a full house, but everyone feels like family.”
Skeletal Remains perform at Los Globos on Friday, April 13.