Sep 282011

(NCS writer Andy Synn reviews the new album by Skeletonwitch.)

If you’ve followed any of my writings so far, you’ll know that I have a huge love for the riff-fuelled blackened majesty that makes up the work of bands such as Iskald, Elite and Vreid. You’ll also know that I consider those three bands to be amongst the best working today, with songs that are equal parts triumph and despair.

Skeletonwitch have long been upon a path similar to that of these bands, albeit one entirely of their own making, steadily growing and transfiguring themselves, fusing the best of Europe’s scintillating majesty with the best of America’s unlimited ambition, resulting in a singular take on the sound which is equal parts Immortal and Metallica, as much enslaved to Emperor’s eldritch power as it is to Slayer’s berserker fury.

Concision and precision have always been the watchwords of Skeletonwitch’s style, and they remain key elements of each song on Forever Abomination. However, despite their continued short and sharp delivery, each song somehow feels more fleshed out and atmospheric, and indeed longer, than ever before. There’s more meat on the bone, more muscle and sinew exerted with every writhing riff and twisting drum fill; the skeleton now bears a more fully realised body, all pulsing musculature devoid of fat or waste.

With the release of Forever Abomination, I can say that Skeletonwitch can now confidently count themselves amongst the bands whose songs of fire and ice transcend the limitations of any one genre, instead rising to the challenge of embracing the best of multiple styles to create a newly formed monstrosity of unknown, and perhaps unlimited, potential.(more after the jump . . .)

Forever Abomination immediately presents itself as an overall darker record than its predecessors, “This Horrifying Force (The Desire To Kill)” rising from its unholy grave wrapped in a decaying shroud of ominous, yet eerily beautiful, classical guitars. Leaping into life with a series of sharp and spiky tremolo riffs, the track pulses with ebon energy as powerful, pummelling drums underpin pounding Slayer-esque riffage, all melded together into a terrible concoction of black metal misanthropy and thrash-fuelled aggression.

The twisted, blasting introduction of “Reduced To The Failure Of Prayer” sees  vocalist Chance Garnette unleash his demonic gutturals to great effect, while the twin guitars of Scott Hedrick and Nate Garnette writhe in paroxysms of technically gifted, orgiastic ecstasy. The song feels unaccountably epic and grandiose in scale despite its taut and lean structure, the band building a greater sense of mood and atmosphere throughout without sacrificing an ounce of power or aggression.

Of Ash And Torment” gives the listeners barely any time to catch their breaths before diving right back into the magma flow of skin-searing riffage and scarifying lead work, the unstoppable force of Dustin Boltjes’ drumming delivering an avalanche of bone-shattering blows. The twists and turns of the track, all executed flawlessly at truly neck-snapping velocities, serve to demonstrate the stunning growth and skills of the band both as a unit and as individuals, employing their ever more impressive technical abilities to the benison of the song as a whole.

This new explosion of the group’s often underrated musical talents is matched in turn by the apocalyptic and haunting pronunciations torn from the bleeding throat of their vocalist, whose harsh screams and brutal gutturals are delivered with deathly power and malevolence. The track ends with a soaring, epic refrain of icy guitars and ascendant, all-conquering majesty that shows the bands’ greater ambitions in full flight.

Erring more on the thrashier side of their repertoire, “Choke Beyond Betrayal” is a teasingly short and stripped-down number which, at times, recalls prime era Gorgoroth in its use of tortured, barbed tremolo runs to accent the burlier, more belligerent thrash metal which holds sway. Ever more chunky and anvil-heavy riffs ascend to prominence as the band lock into a devastating groove broken up by squalling lead guitars and sudden, driving gales of frost-bitten black metal.

As a counterpoint, the blizzard of scathing guitars and machine gun blast-beats that begins “Erased And Forgotten” immediately presents the song as a more blackened composition. Over an unrelenting barrage of booming kick-drums, the band unleash wave after wave of utterly infectious, instantly recognisable riffs which pulse with character and a singular identity that is purest Skeletonwitch, forged in fire and frost. Racing away at a galloping pace, the song builds to a stunning and sharply executed climax of gale-force dynamics and militaristic drumming fury.

The magnificent and restrained introduction of “The Infernal Resurrection” breathes in light and exhales darkness, its chiaroscuro dynamism recalling the shining symbolism and serpentine subtlety of Iskald’s recent magnum opus The Sun I Carried Alone. Unashamedly grandiose and ambitious, the track packs a huge array of variety into its compact run-time, skin-walking between majestic melody and monstrous fury as it smoothly shifts form and function. The group have managed to make a song that feels so much greater and grander than anything they have achieved before, something which holds true for the album as a whole, the complex interplay between each instrument building towards a greater whole which is both unapologetically ambitious and unflinchingly ferocious.

Rejoice In Misery” does just that, glorifying in its own violent intensity and misanthropic malice. It effortlessly displays the crossover between black metal’s obsidian grace and thrash metal’s rabid savagery at its fullest and finest, the murderous nature of the former given new life by the berserker fury of the latter. Almost over even before it has begun, the song is a brain-melting assault upon the senses that refuses to relent, even for a moment.

By contrast, the follow-up of “Cleaver Of Souls” is a more measured piece (if such a term can ever truly be applied to Skeletonwitch’s specific form of metallic vitriol) which begins with a cacophony of crashing guitar chords before a rumbling, armour-plated bass line heralds the onrushing horde of thrashy guitars and throat-rending vocals. The ever-shifting guitars dance between styles without pause or hesitation, while the agile drumming of Dustin Boltjes never falters in its laser-guided precision, shifting from a blazing hurricane of kick-drumming power to a scorching fire-storm of blazing blast-beats by virtue of whirling dervish fills and neck-snapping, metronomic snare-beats. Building towards its inevitable conclusion, the track begins to weave an inescapable vortex of impenetrable blackness around the listener, growing ever deeper and darker as monolithic chords vie with weeping guitar leads for ultimate dominance.

Shredding Sacred Flesh” provides yet another showcase for Boltjes to demonstrate his ease and comfort delivering both a pounding, full-bore drumming assault and a more complex, nuanced display of intricate playing patterns and clever undercurrents of power and restraint. While the bass and guitars twist together into a barbed-wire chain of choking horror, vocalist Chance Garnette continues to tear his voice open, spitting blood and acid in all directions like an oracle of disease.

Sink Beneath Insanity” dwells forever in darkness, beneath a fatal eclipse. The twin guitars slash and tear with evil intent, biting deep into flesh and bone as demonically possessed vocals deliver proclamations of damnation and dissent. Shafts of piercing light cut through the forest of shadows and dust, revealing the depths to which we have sunk in or madness and depravity, the scything melodic riffs breaking up an otherwise overwhelming miasma of virulent insanity.

Finally, with “My Skin Of Deceit”, we come to the end of this blackest night, in its death throes the record unleashing one final spasm of intricate guitar work and devastating speed, nimble fingers dancing spider-like over blazing frets. Racing towards the end without fear for what awaits, the track employs judicious use of melody and discordance in equal measure, a hail-storm of violent snare beats and sharpened riffs falling like arrows onto vulnerable flesh, piercing through to bone to leave their barbed hooks wedged deep in the marrow of the soul.

I was ready to be impressed by this release, that’s for certain, but I was entirely unprepared for just how phenomenal a record it is. Dark and belligerent, yet uplifting and empowering, it captures a grander sense of atmosphere and a more electric form of energy than the band have ever harnessed before, straddling the divide between Europe and America with almost condescending ease to produce metal without borders or limitations. Drawing strength from contradiction, the record revels in its self-imposed restrictions, tunnelling deeper into the bedrock of both black and thrash metal to reveal deeper, untapped veins of potential in the melding of these two dark forces.

Best songs: “This Horrifying Force”, “Reduced To The Failure Of Prayer”, “Of Ash And Torment”, “Erased And Forgotten”, “The Infernal Resurrection”, “Cleaver Of Souls”, “My Skin Of Deceit”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Forever Abomination will be released by Prosthetic Records on the following dates:

Mainland Europe: October 7
United Kingdom: October 10
North America: October 11
Japan: October 19

Pre-order packages are available for order HERE.  The following are the two tracks from the album that have been released to date:


[audio:|titles=Skeletonwitch – The Infernal Resurrection]


[audio:|titles=Skeletonwitch – Reduced To The Failure Of Prayer]


  1. I have to be honest and admit I haven’t given SW their fair shake. I listened to the debut and couldn’t get into it but these two songs are SUPERB slabs of blackened thrash. I’ll have to check this album out.

    • First of all, I seriously hope you do not mean Breathing the Fire when you say “the debut.” Secondly, these two songs are not blackened thrash. I would call these “blackened NWOBHM.” Beyond the Permafrost was thrashier, still not really very blackened, and still more trad/NWOBHM than anything else. Interestingly, this “new” sound was probably most pronounced on their first record, At One with the Shadows, with the bluesy solos and all. I don’t now about this band, though. They seem to be writhing around, desperately casting about for the most successful formula. Breathing the Fire was a clear attempt to go as commercial as you can without clean singing; channeling Judas Priest and echoing the similar attempt that year by 3IOB, Here waits thy Doom. To the extent that Forever Abomination is a reversion to the sound of the band’s first two LPs, I find it an encouraging sign. Perhaps Skeletonwitch has gone as far down the sell-out road as their metal conscience will allow and we can look forward to the perfection of their unique sound over several more records and many more highly entertaining live gigs, allowing us to add “the new stuff is pretty good too” to the eternal vow of the unjustly disrespected metal snob that ‘their early stuff was their best.” By the way, I appreciate the work everyone does on this blog, but I don’t think the song-by-song review format lends itself to the type the insight I want to glean from music criticism. Thanks for making me go through their discography again! Reminded me how much I like this band.

    • I’m beginning to think that Skeletonwitch ONLY make superb slabs of blackened thrash.

      Seriously, considering the high esteem I hold Vreid’s “V”, Iskald’s “The Sun I Carried Alone” and Elite’s “We Own The Mountains” (plus every other album by all 3 bands), that should give you some idea of the value I think this album has. It’s got such black energy.

      Honestly, when I finally purchase the actual cd if my hands aren’t immediately burnt to a charred crisp by the electricity of the album I will be surprised.

  2. Well, thanks for making me twice as anxious to get my hands on this. Well done.

    Also, you suck for already having enjoyment of it. 😛

  3. For some reason, I had written off Skeletonwitch as a hipster/beardo band. (It might be because of the name.)

    While they clearly have beards (nothing wrong with that), they are clearly not what I thought they were. For that, a million apologies. And this is kinda close to black metal, so I expected that I wouldn’t like it, but the vocals are really slaying.

    I’ll put this on the check-out-when-I-have-money pile.

    • If you thought they were working class, honest-to-god, heshers from rural Ohio who would get in your buddy’s car and smoke a joint with you after a blisteringly fun show while telling you how their girlfriend sent them a picture of her butthole so they can’t wait to get home, then they are exactly what you thought they were. I like them enough to forgive them for trying to cash in a little now and then.

      • That’s totally not what I thought they were like. Hahahah! If I thought that was what they were like I would have definitely been much quicker to check out their music!

        I thought they were more like NYC musicians just trying to play the next trendy semi-underground music.

        I didn’t really have a clear image of them, but I just assumed I wouldn’t like their music. Whatever their older music sounds like, I quite like the songs I heard today!

  4. I’m really glad I took the opportunity to see them when they came to Austin earlier this month.

  5. Everyone has one of those bands that they listen to religiously and this is mine. Got to see them live this September and they were superb, great to see someone else likes them too.

  6. Loves me some Skeletonwitch! One of my top 5 bands!

  7. I’ve seen Skeletonwitch 8 times, most of which were hometown shows in Athens, OH. The guys are super cool, always drink beer with the fans before the show, are really down-to-earth and open to conversating with fans. This album is out of this world good. From someone who has listened to all of their previous albums 100s of times, I can say this album will definitely be debated amongst fans as being as good as if not better than Permafrost (I loved BTF but it isn’t as good as the others). Of Ash and Torment and Erased and Forgotten are insanely good. By the way, this author needs to stop raping thesauruses. It’s one thing to have a good vocabulary, it’s another to overuse adjectives and modifiers ad nauseam.

  8. Great write-up. You really managed to articluate what makes this album SO BLOODY GOOD.

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