Baroness 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.
Moving 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”)
Additionally, 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.