Just two years after their previous record, Skeletonwitch is already back with a new album. As much of a cardinal sin as this is to admit, I’ve never really paid much attention to Skeletonwitch. In fact, “Serpents Unleashed” marks the first full record of theirs that I’ve listened to, and it’s pretty much exactly what I expected. For the most part, the album is filled with scorching black metal vocals, thrashy riffs, and predictably clever melodies. The only major moment of variation is in the opening of the first track, “Serpents Unleashed”. This song begins with a punk-influenced drumbeat, not unlike what you’d expect from the new Toxic Holocaust record. It isn’t long, however, until Skeletonwitch returns with their signature sound.
This might come as a surprise to some, but to me, this sounds more like a melodic death metal record with black metal vocals than a thrash one. “Beneath Dead Leaves” is among the best examples (alongside "Unending, Everliving"); the melody is rampant in the song, yet it never truly delivers the aggression that a thrash band would. Even the guitar solo in this track is happy and upbeat, rather than erratic and out of control. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but it does more justice to Skeletonwitch’s sound to call them melodic death metal than thrash. Another reason why I like this term for the band is that they incorporate a wide variety of influences from extreme metal. As already mentioned, the vocals make no effort to deviate from the style pioneered by the Norwegian black metal bands. The drums take cue from all extreme metal genres, but primarily deliver persistent double bass, with the occasional blast beat section. Even the guitars use a wide variety of techniques; the thrash riffs that the band is known for obviously exist on “Serpents Unleashed”, but there are an overriding number of melodic tremolo picked riffs that would not be uncommon in some melodeath or even more atmospheric black metal. In fact, it is these distinctive moods that show Skeletonwitch at their best; they drive the music beyond providing exactly what you’d expect, and instead create moments of grandeur.
Where I struggle with “Serpents Unleashed”, and Skeletonwitch in general is that it feels too commercial. I find it ironic that bands like Dragonforce are called out for pandering to the crowd when this is exactly what I feel Skeletonwitch does. It’s all so predictable. The “true” crowd loves black metal, and has somewhat of a negative affinity for newer thrash, but combining all of the elements that Skeletonwitch does makes for an extremely attractive package to that crowd. So while the band doesn’t necessarily offend with their music, they don’t do anything that sounds particularly authentic. This isn’t to say the guys aren’t passionate about their music, but it all seems very contrived to me. If you can get past this issue, however, “Serpents Unleashed” is a commendable release. It definitely has all of the elements of a solid record, and should please fans of the band.
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"Beneath Dead Leaves"
3.6/5 or 72%.
Written by Scott