Skeletonwitch_Serpents RisingBaroness frontman John Baizley was having drawer’s block. Some Ohio blackened thrash metal band called “Skeletonwitch” had contracted his service for drawing metal album cover art, but when he drew up a draft that depicted a naked woman covered by foliage at the NSFW areas and surrounded by random animals, the band rejected it on grounds of un-creativity. Oh, the nerve of those Southeasterners. What were they expecting to see? Fully-clothed women and machines? It was unfathomable to him for anyone to want to draw anything other than naked women and nature. Hang on—their name’s “Skeletonwitch.” Hey! A witch’s a female, right? No problem there. Also, “Skeleton”… Hm…

Ah, John saw the problem now. He took to the drawing board once more, eyes gleaming with enlightenment. With a few swipes of the eraser, he stripped the flesh from the naked woman’s face and drew a skull with a malevolent grin in its place. There, problem solved.

The above is a fictional take on the origin of this seemingly literal Skeletonwitch album cover art, of course. It’s a fresh visual direction for the Ohio blackened thrashers’ music and may seem unsuitable at first (due to its artistic style being typically associated with sludge metal). But because the music on Serpents Unleashed is so damn good, Baizley-style album cover art might just take off in the realm of blackened thrash and eventually become a “suitable” visualization of that sub-genre.

Skeletonwitch_2013Moving on, Serpents Unleashed is Skeletonwitch’s fifth full-length album and possibly the best re-thrash metal album of 2013. We currently live in the re-thrash era in which excellent bands such as Havok, Vektor, Warbringer and Toxic Holocaust are revitalizing the thrash metal sub-genre with piles upon piles of catchy thrash riffs that are all competing for one’s undivided attention. But even amidst such esteemed company, Skeletonwitch’s riffs manage to stand out the most this year, mostly because of their intense synergy with the band’s more pronounced black metal side this time round.

On this record, Skeletonwitch sounds uncannily like either old Satyricon or old Darkthrone at times. The spirit of the former is evoked by the grim and menacing plod of the introduction of eighth track “This Evil Embrace”, while the ghost of the latter is summoned by the violent blast-beating and pained scream heard in the introduction of second track “Beneath Dead Leaves”.

Best of all, the guitar solos have become more intricate and melodic. A big part of Skeletonwitch’s appeal has always been their music’s blazing tempo, brevity and catchy grooves. The guitar solos, however, always seemed to be too simple and/or brief to amount to anything memorable. But on Serpents Unleashed, Scott Hedrick’s and Nate Garnette’s guitar solos sound more fleshed out than they’ve ever been, almost as though they were hibernating beasts that are finally awakening from a deep slumber and stretching their limbs, snagging the listener’s ears with their filthy, bony claws in the process. (E.g.: “From a Cloudless Sky”, “Burned from Bone”)

Skeletonwitch_2013aAdditionally, Evan Linger’s bass guitar line is wondrously audible throughout the whole album and hence, manages to stay relevant. So album producer Kurt Ballou (of Converge) deserves praise for making this part of the record a reality and step forward from previous Skeletonwitch records, which suffered from the common IBGS (Inaudible Bass Guitar Syndrome).

For the above reasons, Serpents Unleashed should have a spot in one’s must-buy list for this year. Once let out of their physical cage, expect those sonic snakes to slither into your ear canals, coil around your brain tightly and stubbornly refuse to leave.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
Labels: Prosthetic Records
Websites: |
Release Dates: EU: 10.28.2013 | NA: 10.29.2013

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  • Rik

    That’s clearly not a woman.

    • Happy Metal Guy isn’t very worldly….

    • Well spotted! Unfortunately, Happy Metal Guy wouldn’t know.

    • In my universe, women have muscular bodies, bulging biceps, and evil, skeletal grins.

  • Jeremy González

    As good as it may be, the title for best re-thrash album of 2013 belongs to Power Trip.

  • More cruel than weak and Burned from Bone are awesome tracks. Looking forward to seeing these guys with Amon Amarth and Enslaved early next year.

    • Nigel Pepper Cock

      That tour sounds so kickass! Too bad it isn’t coming to Ohio or else I’d be all over that.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    I’d hardly count Skeletonwitch as a re-thrash band since their style is so far removed from your typical re-thrash band (Havok, Warbringer, Gama Bomb, Hexen, and I could be here all night…).

    That said, I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on this. Forever Abomination was great and by the looks of things this going to just as good.

    PS: What’s with John Baizley’s obsession with painting fingers in pink? That’s something I noticed on Baroness and Kvelertak artwork, too…

    • Maybe that’s symbolic of how one would be healthy if one is in touch with nature? It could be a very literal take on the idiom “being in the pink of health”.

  • Shahir Chagan

    In a recent interview, Scott Hedrick stated that ‘it gets a little frustrating when we would get lumped into something that was very, very mono-toned’ when referring to re-thrash.
    And I agree, while some bands (Havok, Vindicator) have written solid records, none really sound thrashy enough, IMO. Skeletonwitch is quite original in what they do, mixing the black and thrash metal and whatnot, making some genuinely awesome stuff. I really want to get my hands on this album!

  • RU63

    Great review – and I liked your “fictional take” on the cover art. haha.

  • Daniel Figueiredo

    Those first three paragraphs are brilliantly written, HMG. This has quickly become of one my favorite records of the year.

    • Thanks Daniel. I think this is Skeletonwitch’s strongest showing to date. “Serpents Unleashed” is the 4th best record on my year-end list so far:

      1. White Wizzard – “The Devils Cut”
      2. Dark Tranquillity – “Construct”
      3. In Solitude – “Sister”
      4. Skeletonwitch – “Serpents Unleashed”
      5. Exhumed – “Necrocracy”
      6. TOAD – “Endless Night”
      7. Toxic Holocaust – “Chemistry of Consciousness”
      8. Thrawsunblat – “Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings”
      9. Heaven Shall Burn – “Veto”
      10. Skeletal Spectre – “Voodoo Dawn”
      11. Fleshgod Apocalypse – “Labyrinth”
      12. Darkthrone – “The Underground Resistance”
      13. The Browning – “Hypernova”

      • THRAWSUNBLAT!!! So good.

  • Christofer

    Really like this album. Their best since Permafrost.