Heavy metal and its vast network of subgenres has long been a vessel for some of the most extreme, boundary pushing and just plain insane developments in musicianship in the past four decades. And with each passing year, the limits to which metal’s most ambitious bands push those extremes keep getting farther and farther out, to the point where albums sometimes become feats of endurance, be it through the sprawling trudge of post-metal, or the hyperactive beating of grindcore. And, personally, I’m all for it. It’s often thanks to these ironmen that the genre can evolve. But then again, for as much enjoyment as I’ve gotten out of the apocalyptic dirges of Neurosis or the bleak churn of Harvey Milk, I also believe metal is usually at its best when it plays up the fun component. So, thank the dark lord for Skeletonwitch.
The Athens, Ohio band have made a name for themselves via a handful of blazing releases comprising equal parts ’80s Bay Area thrash riffs, early ’90s Scandinavian black metal blasts and New Wave of British Heavy Metal melodicism. Having served them so well on past releases, that mixture remains the recipe to the band’s unholy bouillabaisse on third album Forever Abomination, a face-ripping set that balances aggression with melody in a way that’s thoroughly modern, no matter how proudly they wave their old school bona fides. The album’s 32 minutes burn down quickly, the band surging through these 11 tracks with fierceness and focus, though they manage to lay down a series of unforgettable tracks in that relatively short amount of time. Album opener “This Horrifying Force (The Desire to Kill)” starts off with a surprisingly atmospheric elegance, as acoustic guitar riffs pave the way for an eventual explosion, and the ushering in of Chance Garnett’s throaty croak. The band serves up some Iron Maiden-style riffing in “Reduced to the Failure of Prayer” and “Of Ash and Torment,” crank out the catchiest black metal intro I’ve ever heard in “Erased and Forgotten,” and even produce one hell of a rock ‘n’ roll song with “The Infernal Resurrection.”
At times, it almost seems as if Forever Abomination is an exercise in cramming in as much metal history into one album. But what makes Skeletonwitch unique is that few bands combine so many different stylistic metal movements into one sound so seamlessly. Skeletonwitch don’t hide their influences on Forever Abomination, but they also know how best to catalyze them, stirring up the accessible and the aggressive into one incredible amusement park ride of an album. Metal may have its share of head-scratching theses, theorems and eccentric icons, but as long as it also has bands like Skeletonwitch, it’ll still be a refuge for those seeking one hell of a good time.
Warbringer – Waking Into Nightmares
Slayer – Reign In Blood
Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.