Various Artists - Soundboy's Gravestone Gets Desecrated By VandalsSkull Disco raved their way back from the grave once before, but the vital signs are that, after just ten vinyl releases, Shackleton and Appleblim's influential and idiosyncratic UK label is finally terminated. In truth, they seemed to be already locked in some sort of endgame around the time of their sixth release. By that point, Shackleton's endless reworkings of his tight-fisted palette of loose percussion, brooding atmospheres and fathomless bass suggested that his work in particular was already on the verge of consuming itself. What the pair achieved brilliantly with their remaining releases on the label—three of which are collected here, with a superb range of remixes—was to fully surrender to their perversions and let fantasy run riot. On Soundboy's Gravestone Gets Desecrated by Vandals, the traits they were already well known for—Shackleton's loopy drum programming and ink-stained bass; Appleblim's spacious, clean lines—are pushed to psychedelic extremes. Rather than seeking a way out for their music, they found new ways to burrow deeper.
Appleblim's tracks "Vansan," "Circling" and "Over Here," the latter pair co-productions with Bristol's Peverelist, feature unresolved hanging chords, textures like brushed steel and softly churning drones that suggest something like La Monte Young hitting the bong with Digital Mystikz. Taken together, they're some of the most subtly spacious tracks in the dubstep canon. But Shackleton's tracks comprise most of the first disc. "Death Is Not Final" added little more than Tenfold Vengeance's Gothic whisperings to his already familiar style, but by the four tracks of the recent Soundboy's Suicide Note 12-inch, it's as if his music is suffering some sort of internal haemorrhage—or a bodily mutation, as a prelude to some new sound emerging Alien-like from the wreckage. Bass bleeds freely, and the brooding chords settle into an eerily calm pre-apocalyptic Zen state.
Yet despite the undoubted quality of Shackleton and Appleblim's originals, the remixes somehow still manage to outshine them. T++'s versions of "Death Is Not Final" and "Vansan" take dubstep's in-and-out exhalations of sub-bass and remakes them as a mechanoid's steely pulse. Pole contributes his best work for quite some time on a remix of Shackleton's "Shortwave," inserting uncanny moments of silence and opening up its pathways. Other remixes from Geiom, Peverelist and Badawi are also seriously imaginative, the last of these a 12-minute trip to the heart of the bass that even manages to trump the original. The afterlife of the Skull Disco catalogue seems just as compelling as the label's actual lifespan—the label is dead, but the sound lives on.