Skeletonwitch are set to release their new four track EP, entitled The Apothic Gloom, this summer- a highly anticipated addition to their already solid back catalogue. Aside from the significance of this being a new release for the band, this new EP is notable for being the debut for the band’s new vocalist Adam Clemans, who replaced original vocalist Chance Garnette last year. Despite the band already releasing lead single Well of Despair, as well as playing new song Black Waters on the Decibel Tour, I thought it would still be a great opportunity to give my thoughts on what I’d like to see from the new EP (and possibly the new album the band has hinted at)- along with what I don’t want.
A Solid Foundation
To me, Skeletonwitch have a fairly distinct musical identity. Over the course of four albums they’ve clearly established a particular style of metal that they can confidently record and perform, as well as call their own. Their template of combining the intense riffing of thrash, the soaring and catchy guitar melodies of NWOBHM giants such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, and some black metal flourishes, is a formula that has really worked for them. Considering that these are fundamental aspects of the Skeletonwitch sound that has seen them succeed in the metal scene, I think its apparent that it would be a real shame if the band chose to completely change up their sound and head in a different direction. Even if it meant focussing more on a specific genre in their melting pot of styles, I still believe it would be a step in the wrong direction- all these elements brought together are what define the ‘Witch’.
With this in mind I’d really like to see the band play to their strengths on upcoming releases; traces of thrash/NWOBHM/black metal, songs that are infectiously catchy (a la Serpents Unleashed), riffs that gallop at break-neck speeds, and majestic solos that enthrall and excite in equal measure.
Adam Clemans’ Talents
Obviously with any release featuring a new vocalist the prime focus for the fans is whether or not the new member can live up to, or surpass, the standard set previously. Whilst we’ve had a sneak peek at Clemans’ vocal prowess on lead single Well of Despair, I really hope that he takes the opportunity on The Apothic Gloom to quell any naysayers that will undoubtedly point to Chance Garnette being the ‘better’ vocalist. Whilst Garnette did an excellent job at the helm, it would be fantastic for Clemans to not just replicate what has gone before him, but to add his own talents to the mix. Although his range may not be as extreme as Garnette’s (death metal bellows to scathing screams) I hope he has something up his sleeve to spice up the new material- that way fans are not only satisfied with his handling of older material, but are also excited about what lies ahead for them.
Whilst there is no denying that ‘Witch’ guitarists Nate “N8 Feet Under” Garnette and Scott “Scunt” Hedrick know how to craft toe-tapping riffs, I feel that perhaps they should try to write a song that is more chorus driven than their usual fare. The idea being that a song which has a hook for the fans to get into will add a new dynamic to the live setting. Having seen Skeletonwitch live (last year at Camden Underworld, London), I’ve seen how the fans respond to band’s set of high-octane tunes: relentless head-banging and frenzied mosh pits. The only thing that was missing was some vocal line that the fans could get behind, one that would get the audience to participate in the performance and lend their voices. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean a cleanly sung melody, instead I was thinking more of some form of chanting or gang vocals- nothing too complex but catchy enough that fans will want to shout along to with Adam Clemans.
It’s fair to say that Skeletonwitch’s music can generally be described as thrash metal, evidenced by their up-tempo rhythm section and frantic drumming. Whilst this is integral to the Skeletonwitch sound, and indeed the overall appeal of thrash, I think that from a song writing perspective the material would benefit from a variety in tempos. This ensures that within the context of an album, tracks become more distinct and individual ultimately leading to a more engaging and rewarding listen. So along with their usual upbeat thrashers, there’s space for a crushing and stomping mid-tempo anthem or a doomy/atmospheric experimentation that will add variety and lead to albums becoming more rounded pieces.
Another upside is that by showing a degree of restraint, the music opens up and allows the instruments to breathe and therefore provide an opportunity for the guitars/bass/drums to really shine through. There’s no doubting the talent of Garnette, Hedrick, bassist Evan “Loosh” Linger and drummer Dustin Boltjes, so it would be nice to allow each member to show the subtle nuances and intricacies of their playing, which they’d previously alluded to on songs such as Unending, Everliving and More Cruel Than Weak. However, in all fairness, the track listing for The Apothic Gloom does indicate that there will be songs that stretch past the normal 3 minute mark, as some songs reach towards 6-7 minutes, so this does bode well for the band.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a band that cites influences such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest should have soaring twin guitar melodies, but I feel that band has definitely explored that avenue thoroughly- a change is in order. Instead of crafting their usual catchy and upbeat guitar licks, I think some of the melodies could be perhaps darker and sinister, which would really highlight their black metal roots. This carries on from my earlier argument about Different Tempos, as perhaps taking a more atmospheric approach would be a great chance for the guitarists to create something memorable and different. I’d definitely look at how other bands have incorporated darker leads into their songs, such as Death (Lack of Comprehension), At The Gates (Cold) or even Slayer (Dead Skin Mask), to name but a few examples.
And What I Don’t Want… Death Metal Influences
Having already established that Skeletonwitch are essentially a thrash band with black and NWOBHM influences, the one key influence that they’ve spurned is that of death metal. To my ears, this has been a key aspect that has allowed the band to stand out from their peers, as I think there are already plenty of bands that take a thrash template and add typical death metal embellishments (e.g. deep growling vocals, endless blast beats and low-end riffing). Although this has produced great acts like Goatwhore, Sylosis, Revocation, Battlecross and Wretched, I personally feel that the combination of death and thrash is too straightforward, these genres being such obvious bedfellows due to their stylistic overlap. Ergo, including these traits or influences would be somewhat detrimental to the very notion of the ‘Skeletonwitch sound’.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? What are you anticipating or dreading? Feel free to leave comments below.
“The Apothic Gloom” Track Listing
1. The Apothic Gloom (5:58)
2. Well of Despair (3:54)
3. Black Waters (3:47)
4. Red Death, White Light (7:12)