Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Skeletonwitch - Serpents Unleashed

These guys. I’m tellin’ ya’. These guys.

I can say, with a tone of pride, that I’ve been following Skeletonwitch since their first full length Prosthetic Records release, Beyond The Permafrost (which I practically had to wrestle from the Bast, err….Racer’s white knuckled grip) , way back in 2007. Yes…practically from the day that The Ripple Effect started, we’ve been on the Skeletonwitch boat, paddling up the river of life….sometimes paddling in different directions, but putting our blood, sweat and tears behind the band (alright, that was a little overly dramatic) just the same.

There’s something about the band’s sound that has an overlapping effect on me and Racer. While the metal is played in a thrashing and searing fashion, the band retains just enough NWOBHM sensibility with its melodocism to make it…..accessible? That ain’t the right word, but I think you all see where I’m going with this. Skeletonwitch has never sacrificed the pure aural destruction for creating a “radio friendlier” song, however, there’s something that these cats are doing that the rest of the bombastic or dastardly bludgeoning knuckle-dragging metal bands aren’t doing….and that’s what makes Skeletonwitch the honey badger of the metal world. So, harsh, aggressive, abrasive and extreme metal that makes me happy; a hint of melody and a nod to the old school that makes Racer happy.

Serpents Unleashed is….damn near perfect. Actually, I’m searching my brain right now to figure out why it’s not perfect. This is the blackest and most vile heavy record that I’ve heard all year. It has all of the elements that tick for me. Violent vocals to compliment the equally violent lyrics, heavy thrashing guitars with those great traces of melody, searing solos that shred the senses, bass lines that are tasteful and exciting, all over the place thunderhead drums….Serpents Unleashed is an instant classic in Pope’s metal world.

On top of all of that, the album is short and digestible. If Skeletonwitch put out a double LP, I’d probably get turned off. Part of the allure to these guys is that they write short and concise material, much like Slayer’s classic, Reign In Blood. No one needs to hear an extreme metal band going on and on for eighty minutes. Just because you can fill an entire CD with content doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. Serpents Unleashed is like….thirty-three minutes!!! Hell, that’s barely time to take a shit on some days! Thirty-three minutes….eleven songs (for the mathematically challenged, that’s an average of three minutes per song)….perfect.

Let me start with the album opener and title track….the band waste no time thrusting the extreme metal down the listener’s throat. It’s a massive blast of heat, and stench, and filth, and destruction, and heavy fucking metal thrashing its way in wave after relentless wave. And the aural onslaught continues onto the next song, “Beneath Dead Leaves”. Now, while the majority is blasting the skin from your face, there’s a great nuance that I need you all to pay attention to. The bass work. This is something that I haven’t heard from the band before, and that’s not to say that it hasn’t always been there before, it’s just that this is the first time that I’ve actually noticed this guys chops. On the first two songs, specifically, listen to the rolling bass lines that are dropped into the chaos. It’s like, the bassist has spent his entire career in a cabin tucked away in the woods while the rest of the band has been outside hunting deer, or fishing, or whitewater rafting, and on this day…..he decides to step out of the cabin, have a cup of coffee, watch the sun reflect off the lake, feel the chill wind blowing across his flesh. Basically, dude shines on this recording and I think it’s that little element that makes this album so much more interesting to me than Forever Abomination or Breathing The Fire before it.
“From A Cloudless Sky” is a groover. Great riffing and a bitchin’ mid tempo pace, for the most part….and what I like best about this track is that with that slower pace, the musical chops of the guitarists stand out like a scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield. These guys trade off great melodic runs that send chills up the spine. I mean, searing guitar work with layer upon layer of class. And, we also get to hear a little of that musical virtuosity from the drummer, as well, as he snaps the wrist to hit the bells of the cymbals or powerglides across the ride. He’s adding little touches that create great moments of interest to my ears, and I appreciate that.

Skeletonwitch wrap up the album with an intriguing moment in “More Cruel Than Weak”. First off, it’s the longest song on the album, clocking in at a little over four and quarter minutes (that’s the Skeletonwitch equivalent of an Iron Maiden epic), and adds new wrinkles to an album that already is ripe with layers. The song opens with clean arpeggios and haunting tones, and the band does a great job of not rushing the intro. The opening builds with intensity and builds and builds, and then …..BOOM! Sure hope you were strapped in for that moment of being propelled across the stratosphere!

These guys. We’ve been singing their praises for six years or so, and if you haven’t jumped on board the Skeletonwitch bandwagon then there’s simply no getting through to you. On first listen, I fell in love with Serpents Unleashed, by the third listen I was hunting down the LP, by the fourth….I was spinning the LP. I even went back to Beyond The Permafrost to hear what type of growth there was with these guys, and it’s staggering. While Permafrost is a great record and does a great job of balancing this new wave of extreme metal with NWOBHM sensibilities, Serpents Unleashed up’s the game. The band is like a group of artisans who have mastered their craft. They are carving their own statue of David, painting their own Mona Lisa, and constructing their own Roman Colosseum. Why does this album work so well? Integrity. They play it like they mean. Wait….they play it coz they mean it. It’s as natural as breathing. Buy it!!!

….and after watching this video, I’m never stepping foot in a wooded area again.


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