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Skeletonwitch thrash across metal’s (many) subtle sub-genres
Skeletonwitch aren’t your typical metal band. Hailing from the unlikely locale of Athens, Ohio, the full-throttle five-piece have toured with everyone from High On Fire to Danzig, collecting a wide range of would-be genre classifications along the way.
Despite being dubbed “thrash revival,” “melodic death metal” and just plain “black metal,” the band’s 2007 breakthrough, Beyond the Permafrost, defies pigeonholing. And as we speak, a follow-up is being recorded with veteran Seattle producer Jack Endino, who helmed Nirvana’s Bleach and other grunge classics. So, yeah, nobody puts Skeletonwitch in a corner.
“One day we tour with a death metal band, and we’re a death metal band,” guitarist Scott Hedrick says of the constant labeling. “Then we tour with a black metal band, and we’re a black metal band. We just love heavy metal. That’s why there are several different styles mixed into Skeletonwitch.”
“It shows in the songs that we play,” says bassist Evan Linger. “In turn, we have flexibility to appeal to a wide range of people. That works to our advantage.”
Hedrick adds, “Because we have a more diversified metal attack, we can fit in with most heavy bands.”
A crucial element of that flexibility is belting out songs that are as catchy and riff-packed as they are intense in velocity and wicked in theme. Hedrick shreds alongside guitarist Nate Garnette, whose brother Chance provides the blood-curdling screams and disturbing lyrics about ritual sacrifice, black magic, baptism by fire and other heavy-metal rites of passage. Linger’s bass plunges ahead at the same fervent pace as Derrick Nau’s nonstop drums. Through it all, Skeletonwitch prove light on their feet and listenable enough to win over metal virgins and diehards with equal aplomb.
“It’s what we do,” Hedrick says. “We aren’t going to play something we don’t like. The riffs have to give us chills. Maybe that’s why there are a lot more money shots. If we just bludgeoned ourselves to death with thrash, we would be bored.”
“Nothing is forced at all,” Linger says. “It’s just things that come naturally.”
Skeletonwitch came together when Hedrick heard the songs Nate Garnette was demoing in the ashes of his former band, Serkesoron, while both were students at Ohio University. “I showed up with a case of beer and my guitar,” Hedrick recalls. “I learned the songs that he had written, and then we started writing together and pieced it together from there.” The band have had basically the same lineup since the beginning; one slot has changed, as Linger is the third bassist, though Hedrick says he’s a definite keeper.
While Athens may seem like a strange home base for a successful metal band, Hedrick praises the town’s musical diversity. (Skeletonwitch spent a year based in Cleveland, where Nau was going to school and Linger still lives.) The band are on the West Coast to record their new album, which will tentatively be released in mid-October, thus the July tour with Saviours. And come fall, there will be a full-scale assault on the United States and Canada with Children of Bodom and Black Dahlia Murder. It’ll be a chance for fans to experience a lot of new material, not to mention the usual flurry of long hair, tattoos, flying-V guitars and black T-shirts.
“It’s a bit more aggressive,” Linger says of the much-awaited follow-up to Beyond the Permafrost, which has already become a cult classic.
Hedrick seconds that. “There are less in-your-face, happier, Maiden-esque harmonies,” he says, “and more black metal elements. There’s a lot of speed. It’s pretty fuckin’ fast. It’s definitely got a harder edge.”
Still touring like maniacs and transcending subgenres with freakish ease, Skeletonwitch are set to become an even bigger presence once the new album emerges. It’s a far cry from the band’s beginnings. “We had our first show in our front yard on a stage we built out of plywood,” Hedrick says. “We didn’t have a name, and one of our buddies came up with it. We went with it, thinking we were going to change it. But Athens is a small town, and people would see us and go, ‘Skeletonwitch!’ and throw up the metal horns. It had already stuck.
“I’m actually glad it did because it’s not too specific. You really don’t know what exactly the music could be, but you’re pretty sure it’s gonna be heavy.”
Skeletonwitch with Saviours, Trap Them and Terry Funk at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067; www.allages.com. Wed., 7 p.m. $12. All ages.
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