Released: 2016, Prosthetic Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Ohio black/thrash veterans Skeletonwitch return with their first new music since a messy split with frontman Chance Garnette in early 2015, a situation made all the messier since his brother Nate is one of the band's guitarists. But after touring at first with no vocalist, and then a fill-in, Skelewitch signed on Wolvhammer's Adam Clemans to man the mic.
Have to admit, I was a bit underwhelmed by the initial new song, “Well of Despair,” that was issued in advance of the four-track EP The Apothic Gloom, and Clemans' vocals therein, which seemed oddly hardcore-like at first. But when taken in the context of the full EP, both the song and Clemans' fire-breathing delivery prove themselves more than worthy.
“Despair” is the most direct and full-frontal of the four tracks here, the thrashiest of the lot for sure, though with a hint of Goathwhore's blackened freneticism and fiendish hooks. The title track and “Black Waters,” by contrast echo the classic, even elegant black/power metal of Mercyful Fate with their twisting guitar harmonies and grandiose feel, while also boasting plenty of full-on, old-school black metal tremolo and furious drumming. Here, Clemans' throaty shriek and tenacious delivery, which bears no small resemblance to Carcass' Jeff Walker, give the songs the sort of bite the usual piercing black metal caterwaul cannot.
The monumental “Red Death, White Light” boasts the epic scale of “Cascadian black metal” - a la Wolves In The Throne Room – without going to the ridiculous, sprawling lengths. At 7:21, it's the longest track here, but it's definitely more of a sprint than a marathon, moving relentlessly along over drummer Dustin Boltjes' blasting pace with Garnette and Scott Hedrick grinding out shrill, cascading riffs for all they are worth. The atmospherics ride along over the top, instead of being used to provide space between and spread things out, which makes the track feel taut and tidy, despite its length. Clemans' vocal ferocity helps in this regard as well.
If The Apothic Gloom is meant to serve as a taster of what's to come for Skeletonwitch, then I can't wait to hear it. The band's greater focus on black metal suits it just fine, as do Clemans' vocals. Indeed with the EP the band not only haven't missed a step as they changed frontmen, they've taken an impressive step forward.