Ilya Kamilsky’s poem We Lived Happily During the War concludes;
“In the street of money in the city of money in the country of money, our great country of money, we (forgive us) lived happily during the war.”
Released at the beginning of the Iraq War, Nothingface’s Skeletons is about trying and failing to live a happy life in the street of money in the city of money, in the great country of money, during the war. Skeletons is about politics colliding with the personal; when an awareness of how the world works starts to break down your ability to function within it, all soundtracked by a vengeful nu-metal firestorm
“Machinations' ' sets the stakes, a protagonist in a mental hospital waiting to be robotized for the dark government. “Let’s start a new nightmare” whispers Holt between guitars that stab like cuts in an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. “A patsy is useful, a window with a view.” Trapped in a place where you “read Catcher in the Rye one hundred and ten fucking times” before being “brainwashed and programmed.” Where on previous album Violence Matt Holt was in perfect concerto with the rest of Nothingface in their pursuit of vengeance, here they turn on him, digging around his brain with jump scare guitar stabs, middle-eights of tinkling cabaret bells and a gentle threat; “Be patient we’ll be calling you.”
In 2003, you still had to work to stay informed, doomscrolling wasn’t a thing nor the social media platforms that made it so horribly possible, yet singer Matt Holt sounds like he’s been locked up in a basement swiping through whatever miserable memes and tweets would have been coming out of the early Iraq War anyway. Whether raging at corporate rock radio (“I Wish I Was a Communist”) record label politics (“Big Fun at the Gallows”) or a runaway military industrial complex (“Ether”) you have to acknowledge he’s making some points while also wishing he’d log off for his sanity’s sake too. Singing like a demon and writing like the only man on earth that can see them, Holt infuses nu-metal angst with real work fury. “Here Comes the Butchers” is, literally, righteously vengeful against a catholic church that exists to protect a global cabal of pedophiles. “Who do you control? You can't control your own priests,” roars Holt while the band whips up a thunderstorm of nu-metal passion around him. “Can’t fool the world again! The book is fucking dead.” These moments of fury burn hot enough to singe, but when Holt does his damndest to set his weapons down it might just move you to tears. On “Patricide”, Holt uses nu-metal’s common lingua francas of pain and hate to interrogate his own depression. (“Anger holds my hands, keeps me in seclusion, a prison”) while “Scission” finds solace inside an underground mass grave of catacombs recognizing it’s “not far to go.” When “Incarnadine” suddenly becomes an acoustic ballad, thinking about the effort it must have taken for Holt to sing pretty is so heavy it cracks your heart in two.
Skeletons is a GW Bush-era album that doesn’t have the smarm or self-congratulatory airs of other distinctly Bush-era releases like American Idiot or the Rock Against Bush compilation. Instead it sounds both weary and fucking infuriated that it has to exist at all. Songs like “Beneath” and “Ether” are as vividly catchy as anything that was actually on the radio at the time but they're too misanthropic, too nu-metal, to be played on any terrestrial radio station. And Nothingface knew it. So as Skeletons hurdles to a close on “All Cut Up” Holt screams at us, TVT Records, his band, and America; “Are you satisfied!?” Three times then bang. Finished.