Skull Fist – Paid In Full – Album Review

Artist: Skull Fist

Album Title: Paid In Full

Label: Atomic Fire Records

Date of Release: 22 April 2022

Any normal year, and this release may have fallen by the wayside. But this is 2022, and I’m on a mission to listen to more music than ever before, as well as review more music than ever before. A quick look at the cover artwork and I would normally pass on by, given how cliched it looks with a leather-clad long-haired gent (probably band mastermind Zach Schottler himself) holding a guitar in his fiercely clenched fist. He’s holding some metal chains for good measure and tattooed on his arm is the title of this record, ‘Paid In Full’. However, finding themselves on the Atomic Fire Records Label, who have enjoyed a powerful start to life, I decided to investigate.

‘Paid In Full’ is the fourth album from Toronto trio Skull Fist and it turns out that record labels play a big part in this Canadian band’s past. Apparently, band mastermind Schottler suffered a number of issues over the years, culminating in the loss of significant funds. What Schottler didn’t lose though, was his determination, which helps to better explain the chosen cover artwork that I initially derided. Instead of throwing in the towel, the vocalist and guitarist pulled together his long-time bandmates Casey Guest (bass), and JJ Tartagila (drums) to create more new music. As it turns out, it’s pretty good music, too, as ‘Paid In Full’ ably demonstrates.

For a start, the music feels as if it is the work of more than just three musicians, as there is plenty going on. Aside from the rather cheesy intro, the opening, self-titled track is a smashing song that immediately made me realise that I was onto something exciting. Riffs, harmonies, melodies, classic heavy metal attitude, it’s all here and I love it. Lead breaks and solos aplenty embellish a punchy rhythm section, where the bass guitar sounds delightfully massive. Schottler has a great voice too, as he demonstrates when the ludicrously 80s-infused anthemic chorus hits. High notes that verge on screams pierce the ears, but his lower register is great too, with a nice tone and delivery. Sweeping solos are layered over slower lead work to add an explosive dimension, whilst the chugging verse riffs are equally as infectious as everything else. It’s just a killer song, with elements of NWOBHM, classic heavy metal, hard rock, and AOR all looming large. Schottler wasn’t kidding when he is quoted as saying he’s ‘on a never-ending pursuit of melody’ and ‘guitars can do other things than just four chords’.

Apart from being armed with a ludicrous title, ‘Long Live The Fist’, is an up-tempo, energetic beast with an even greater swagger than the opener if that’s possible. It is faster, more urgent, and contains some of the best performances from the trio anywhere on this album. The solos are ridiculous, the drum fills are thunderous, and the bass dances and skips with effervescence too. Pulling this song together are more strong riffs, catchy melodies, and an all-out vocal assault from Schottler.

The more I listen to ‘Paid In Full’, the more brilliant and infectious it gets. ‘Crush, Kill, Destroy’ started out as a ‘meh’ track after the opening duo, but it’s thrash ‘lite’ feel just gets better and better. The faster riffs add a different dimension, as does the overt attitude that the song carries with it. But again, the melodies and catchiness of the music have worn me down. Then there’s the delicious ‘Concierto de Aranjeuz’ style intro to ‘Blackout’ that shows us yet more of Schottler’s skills with the six string.

The speed is then sacrificed for serious groove on ‘Madman’, led by a heavy metal riff that many would have killed to write. It isn’t complex, or tricky, it just sounds big, heavy, and gets the neck muscles moving of their own accord. We’re still treated to the guitar histrionics that we’ve come to expect, but the change of pace and focus with ‘Madman’ is brilliant, topped off by a chorus that gets right under my skin, such is its power and infectious nature. In the blink of an eye, it’s done, and we’re off again at top speed with ‘For The Last Time’, complete with an intro full of wailing and gnashing intent. As it develops, there’s a slight touch of ‘ballad’ about it, but it’s nowhere near a ‘lighter in the air’ track, so those with an aversion to such things can breathe easy again.

The only problem with ‘Paid In Full’ is that it’s all over and done with in a little over half an hour. That’s eight blood and thunder songs, and then the curtain falls. I know that I normally criticise albums for being overly long, but this falls into the completely opposite camp. And when I enjoy the music so much, and when there honestly are no fillers throughout, I genuinely do wish that I had more to sink my teeth into. But that’s the only criticism I have to be honest.

That leaves me with precious little else to report then. ‘Paid In Full’ is one of those all-too-rare records that plants a great big grin on your face, whilst reminding you why you got into heavy metal in the first place. For me, it was the solos, the riffs, the harmonies, melodies, the attitude, and the blood-and-thunder nature of the music. ‘Paid In Full’ has all of these elements and more besides, so if you got into metal for similar reasons to me, I suggest that you investigate this latest endeavour by Skull Fist as quickly as you can. Just be warned: blink and you’ll miss it!

The Score of Much Metal: 90%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Hurakan – Via Aeturna

Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme

Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set

Monuments – In Stasis

Soledad – XIII

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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