Review Summary: A new vocalist, a new EP, a new musical direction, but no loss of vigour or identity. Skeletonwitch are back in action.
Up until I heard about Chance Garnette stepping down from his time in Skeletonwitch's career, I always thought the line-up never would have changed. Indeed, every time I saw the band live (twice at a festival, twice as support acts for gigs in my hometown), I always got the impression the band members would be sticking together like glue. It's been a good couple of years since Chance was replaced by Adam Clemans, whose vocal duties on latest EP The Apothic Gloom
are fairly different compared to those of his predecessor, and many of the band's longtime fans will certainly wonder whether or not this marks a significant change in Skeletonwitch's sound and image.
If you ask me, the answer to that foreboding question is middle of the road.
I'll start by talking about the raw, bitter energy and youthful exuberance that Skeletonwitch has employed from the get-go: that hasn't changed at all. When you listen to The Apothic Gloom
all the way through, you still get that feeling that this, at heart, is still a group highly intent on playing for the fun of it, having a few laughs along the way, but never forgetting their roots and primal influences. What has changed is pretty much everything from a musical standpoint. For one thing, two of the songs on this EP both straddle six or seven minutes in length a piece, which is a considerable surprise given that fans are used to the shorter, sub-three minute run-times the average Skeletonwitch song would offer. Here however, we're met with an opening title track introduced via melancholic acoustic leads, power metal-esque riff work and a more progressive, mature songwriting ethic which would have sounded out of place had this been any of the band's first four records. The title track in particular seeks to progress to a dominant conclusion, one which certainly manages to get to its destination, even if a considerable lack of accessibility is displayed along the way.
The remaining three songs are different in their own way, albeit a little less interesting because of their own minor flaws. The shorter songs are interestingly cushioned by their lengthier counterparts in the title track and "Red Death, White Light", but in no way does this signify filler material. On the contrary, "Well of Despair" explodes with vile and hateful attitude, one which explores only the most aggressive soundscapes and extreme influences. Matter of fact, it's blackened thrash done exactly as it had been a decade ago by Skeletonwitch. It's successor, "Black Waters", unfortunately signifies a more forgettable style, one which never really pinpoints a specific musical direction. The intro is a mere mid-paced groove which does little to intensify or flow from the aural battery of "Well of Despair", and perhaps the only redeeming thing about the song is how forceful Clemans' guttural vocals really are. Without his presence, we'd be left with a pretty average instrumental.
That said, The Apothic Gloom
is a strong reminder that Skeletonwitch, even if they taken a bit of a break over the last few years, haven't lost the menace in their sound or the aggression in their musical repertoire. Sure, there's a different vocalist this time round, but Skeletonwitch were never all about one band member. These four songs alone suggest that despite the news that Skeletonwitch are embarking on a new era, they certainly haven't lost their identity.