In my first post for this blog, I briefly touched on the retro thrash revival of the mid-2000s, in the context of discussing a backwards-looking tendency in metal that seems more focussed on honouring the genre’s roots than in forging new paths for it to explore. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with bands like Municipal Waste updating the music they loved as teenagers with a shot of humour and good-time party attitude. It’s just that, for me personally, it’s more satisfying to hear bands that can meld more than one foundational sound. If it’s not entirely original, at least constructing these hybrids involves a bit more creativity than simply emulating your old favourites.
Athens, Ohio titans Skeletonwitch fit firmly into the latter category. As ably demonstrated on their latest album Serpents Unleashed, they are fully capable of blending elements from across the metal spectrum into an entirely satisfying whole. There are echoes of thrash in the hook-laden riffs and zippy tempos; flashes of black metal, most notably in Chance Garnette’s rasped vocals and the blastbeats that accentuate the faster passages; and even flashes to early 80s NWOBHM in the melodic solos and twin guitar harmonies.
By this point in the band’s career everybody’s playing is beyond tight. Guitarists Nate Garnette and Scott Hedrick are as comfortable with chugging rhythm lines as with their flashy, but always catchy leads. Dustin Boltjes pounds the skins with aplomb, never dominating the sound or getting overly technical, but still showing off his speed and chops where appropriate. And considering that bass is still all too often neglected by thrash and black metal groups, it’s a delight to hear four-stringer Evan Linger’s fluid, melodic runs prominently in the mix. Check out the solo in “Burned From Bone”, posted below, for an especially skilled example of how the low end can complement guitar heroics without muddying the sound.
While this is a strong release all round, further distilling Skeletonwitch’s signature sound into another 30-minute banger, you could nitpick that it’s far from a quantum leap over the band’s previous output. Things are perhaps sharper, more focused than prior releases, but it’s still well within the sonic parameters the band established for themselves early on. Every song fits into the three-minute rager category, bar a hushed intro to the closer “More Cruel Than Weak” before all hell breaks loose.
It might seem odd given my earlier comments on traditionalism and bands stepping outside their comfort zone, but I’m OK with all of that. Not every metal band has to do the revolutionary work of mapping out the genre’s future. If Skeletonwitch are content to keep cranking out variations on their well-honed, razor-sharp thrash/black hybrid, I’m content to listen to them. If you’re going to stick to what you know best, you may as well be in complete mastery of that formula. On Serpents Unleashed, the band prove their mastery is still unquestionable.
“Serpents Unleashed” is released October 29th on Prosthetic Records.