By the time a band gets 20 years into their career, you probably think you’ve got them pegged, right? You hear the name Skindred and you think of those Newport ragga-punk-metallers that have forged a reputation as one of the UK’s most formidable live acts by rocking the world’s biggest stages, winning Kerrang! and Metal Hammer Awards for their efforts; of the loudly dressed frontman with the even louder voice – and, of course, the now legendary Newport Helicopter.
But, too often people forget there’s a fuel that gets those huge crowds jumping, namely the four-piece’s six studio albums to date: Babylon (2002), Roots Rock Riot (2007), Shark Bites and Dog Fights (2009), Union Black (2011), Kill The Power (2014) and Volume (2015). It’s an oversight the band is keen to correct.
“We’re not just a great live band,” says bassist Daniel Pugsley. “We’re a great fucking band – full stop. The new album will definitely show that to the world.”
“If you think this is just another Skindred record you’d be wrong,” adds drummer Arya Goggin.
You heard them, people – Bing Tings is coming.
Listeners have already had a taste of Big Tings in the form of Machine, their classic-rock-meets-Beastie-Boys single featuring Reef vocalist Gary Stringer and Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell – but you ain’t heard nothing yet. Things kick off with the album’s title track: an ambitious declaration of intent showcasing the their characteristic big beats and Benji Webbe’s unique vocal stylings – honed through years of dancehall sound system battles – though it finds the band in unfamiliar territory, moodier of sound and sentiment.
Skindred were justified in doubting whether they’d get to make a seventh album, given the fact they very nearly lost Benji in recent years – not once, but twice. The first time was after he developed sepsis in his throat while on holiday in Jamaica in 2015, which resulted in him being rushed to hospital and family members flying over to be with him.
“When I woke up and my son stood there, I knew it was serious,” recalls Benji, who suffered another near miss when a woman randomly attacked him in his native Newport in early 2016.
“I don’t think she meant to slash my throat,” he says of an injury that’s left him scarred. “She had something sharp in her hand and she just lashed out.”
“I’ve had two near-death experiences in the last few years, but they haven’t stopped me,” continues Benji. “It’s just made me want to scream and shout louder, and to preach unity. To me, Big Tings is about being optimistic.”
That optimism, not to mention the band’s gratitude with being able to continue doing what they love, has manifested itself in some of their biggest and most jubilant tunes to date.
“There are always going to be fun, party Skindred songs,” explains Arya, who cites the siren and disco drums assault of That’s My Jam and the relentless All This Time as prime examples. Given that he also describes the philosophy of the album as being about, “ideas bigger than you as an individual, and what you can achieve as a group”, it comes as no surprise that Skindred worked more collaboratively than ever before this time around, throwing their individual experiences into the pot with the enthusiasm of a band wanting to make their definitive musical statement, resulting in curveballs in the form of Last Chance, a T. Rex-meets-Sabbath stomper featuring an impressive cameo from up and coming rapper Adian Coker.
There’s heart to go with the heft in the form of Tell Me, a potent fusion of Massive Attack-esque ambience and Smashing Pumpkins guitar work, and Saying It Now.
“It’s a very strong album overall that’s aggressive in different ways than before, butwanted to finish each ‘side’ of the record with big, powerful ballads,” explains guitarist Mikey Demus.
Saying It Now will already be familiar to listeners, given that a version of it appeared on previous album, Volume. The song took on a life of its own, however, when the band performed it during their unforgettable set at last year’s Bloodstock festival.
“As we were doing it, there was a huge gathering in the crowd,” recalls Benji. “Turns out the song made this guy cry, and everybody in the pit started hugging him. Stories like that made us realise the song’s impact, and when we stripped it down we found where the gold was in it.” That gold was further mined thanks to lush string arrangements provided by composer and conductor Davide Rossi, who has previously worked with the likes of Goldfrapp and The Verve. The rich musical heritage doesn’t stop there, either: Skindred made the new album at two legendary studios – Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Wiltshire, and Rockfield Studios in Wales (where rock legends Queen made big tings of their own in the form of Sheer Heart Attack and A Night At The Opera).
“The beautiful thing about Skindred is now you’ve got an album for every day of the week,” says Benji of another of Big Tings’ accomplishments. “Most people rest on a Sunday, but if you stick this on, it’s going to take you on a journey. It’s not always going to be the one you expect: it’ll break your heart in some places, and have you breaking out your best outfit in others, ready to go out and achieve big tings!”
Skindred are: Benji Webbe (vocals), Mikey Demus (guitar), Daniel Pugsley (bass) and Arya Goggin (drums).