Skeletonwitch clawed their way to consciousness over a decade ago from the mid-west of the USA, into the underground. In the already competitive underbelly of American metal, the `Witch won over fans with heavy if straight-ahead blackened thrash metal albums, and countless incendiary live shows. The band worked hard was focused on their goals for years. Then former vocalist Chance Garnette’s issues causes him to exit the band and left many fans wondering what was next. Frontmen are often synonymous with the success of a band, so people were freaking out. Once the band announced Wolvhammer frontman Adam Clemans and released the first single ‘Well of Despair’ several months ago, they really charted a way forward. They toured heavily this spring and summer, and proved they can deliver their existing material to their fans. That first new track had most of the typical touchstones the band was known for, with Clemans’ scathing vocals on top of it. However, the band had something sneaky up their sleeve for the rest of the new EP, that this critic, nor their fans could not have foreseen.
Befitting its epic name, The Apothic Gloom (Prosthetic) is a harbinger of all kinds of horrors in the best kind of way. It’s ominous sounding, but also a mission statement by a band destined for further greatness. Vaulting over their previous output by leaps and bounds, they have injected a fierce new urgency in their songwriting. In the process have melded the best of black metal, melodic death metal, and thrash into a new strain, and re-birthed themselves. The riffs that Nate “N8 Feet Under” Garnette and Scott Hedrick have brought forth here are just un-godly. The title track on the EP is an incredible slab of brutality; as bleak as the best USBM bands, and as technical and memorable as the classic melo-death legends of all time. Clemans himself brings his harsh howls to the fore and does a fine job of further establishing his style at home in `the Witch.
Even though we have listened to ‘Well of Despair’ about 1000 times since our first review when the single dropped last spring, the track is still a great entree to this band. I used to hip friends of mine to Skeletonwitch with ‘Crushed Beyond Dust’, but now I’d use this song. On repeated listens this cut gets better and better. A little more akin to their old sound. Again, very clever to lead with this track before sharing the more complex and compelling tracks on the full EP.
‘Black Waters’ is my favorite track on the album. While it shares the lineage with the straight up style the band cut their teeth on, there is enough development in the riffs and lyrics to sink your teeth into. There is also some phenomenal bass lines by Evan Linger that calls to mind Rex Brown or Steve DiGiorggio. He has long been the secret weapon of the band, and when he locks in tightly with drummer Dustin Boltjes, it’s golden.
The final track ‘Red Death, White Light’ is a magnificent, hard-charging black/melo-death song. So many layers of sick, guitar-army quality licks are found here, I practically lost my shit while nerding out. I even hear a hint of the classical masterpiece Carmina Burana by Carl Orff in there, just leading to the pure evil sonics of the track. The song is unrelenting from start to finish, and really directs listeners to what the future of this band.
You can’t discuss this EP without mentioning the production work of Kevin Bernstein (Noisem, Mutilation Rites). Recording the band in his home base at Developing Nations Studio earlier this year, the band eschewed the rawness of current production trends and really let the power of the writing and their talents communicate this. The band made some bold choices: from the artwork, to the choice of Clemans, to the songcraft, to stepping out of their comfort zone to create something new and bold. By taking this final step, The Apothic Gloom (Prosthetic) sees Skeletonwitch leave many of their peers in the underground in the dirt, and are poised to be one of the leaders of American metal music for years to come.
Skeletonwitch, by Hillarie Jaosn
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