Skeletonwitch has been one of the more consistent metal bands for the last ten years. They have turned out four excellent albums with their unique brand of blackened thrash combined with death metal influences and NWOBHM style harmonized guitar overlays. Yes some of their material can sound similar, but it’s so full of extreme thrashy goodness that we can forgive that for the most part. Tuesday October 29, 2013 marks the release of their fifth album Serpents Unleashed. Once again the band has remained consistent with excellent fast song arrangements, great black metal/death metal vocals from Chance Garnette, excellent lightning fast thrash and melodic guitar riffs courtesy of Scott Hedrick and Nate Garnette and highly featured bass lines and matching fast double bass drumming from the rhythm section of Evan Linger and Justin Boltjes. The band also mixes in some really cool old school style traditional metal solos that somehow mix in perfectly with the super fast thrash arrangements.
With each release the band’s musicianship and songwriting has improved by leaps and bounds. Serpents Unleashed is easily their best musical and writing effort yet. The production from Kurt Ballou of progressive metal band Converge helped bring about tighter melodic riffs and stronger song arrangements. Skeletonwitch’s latest effort is well crafted, heavy as hell and damn catchy.
Things begin quickly with a blistering pace on the title track “Serpents Unleashed”. It is heavy, fast and uncompromising just like the rest of the record. The Iron Maiden style bass play from Linger really ties everything together perfectly. An absolutely flawless way to kick things off. The band quickly barrels into the next song “Beneath Dead Leaves” which, along with the track “Born of the Light That Does Not Shine”, has slightly more of a black metal influence in the music with more deliberate tremolo picking and some blast beats.
Serpents Unleashed features Linger’s and Boltjes’ best combined bass and drum work, most notably on the tracks “From a Cloudless Sky”, “Blade on the Flesh, Blood on My Hands” and “Unwept”. The first two are crazy fast blackened thrash, while “Unwept” slows the tempo slightly giving you a more defined indication of just how cohesive a unit Linger and Boltjes have become.
The catchiest tracks on the album feature the best thrash riffs of Skeletonwitch’s career along with amazing melodic guitar overlays from Hedrick and Garnette. “I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)” is not only one of the heaviest tracks, but has one unforgettable riff that will have you both banging and grooving. “Unending, Everliving” has a nice harmonized guitar open that flows into a heavy thrash arrangement. More solid attuned riffs return during the very memorable chorus. “More Cruel Than Weak” starts slowly with a guitar picked outset, but things quickly move to a very heavy and groovy main riff. Although, the song is the weakest of these three from a musical stand point, it is still crazy catchy.
The two best tracks on the album are somewhat different from each other, but still give you that amazing Skeletonwitch sound. “The Evil Embrace” slows the tempo down just a little bit to begin. The guitars are more of the death metal design until things reach the much faster chorus riff. Linger shows off some of the best bass play of his career and there is an amazing harmonized guitar bridge and an excellent traditional solo. “Burned from Bone” is easily the best track on the album, one of the best songs of 2013 and easily one of my favorite metal songs ever. The melodic lead guitars really make the song. It is extremely heavy with really tight guitar play in the vein of NWOBHM artists like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.
On Serpents Unleashed the musical skills of the band have improved by leaps and bounds. Much of the credit goes to the band, but also to producer Kurt Ballou who really brought out the best that each band member had to offer. Things stay at a break neck pace throughout the entire album and amazing harmonized guitar riffs, bass play, fast drum work and black metal vocals are mixed in with ease. It gives the listener everything they could possibly want: speed, brutal riffs and vocals, and melody. What could be better? The only thing that I wish is that the songs were longer. Nine of the eleven tracks clocked in at three minutes seven seconds or less and the entire album was just over thirty minutes leaving me wanting more. However, don’t worry too much about this because the band has delivered the best album of their career and one of the best of 2013.