Wednesday, October 14, 2009

CD Review: Skeletonwitch, "Breathing the Fire"

There doesn't seem to be much consensus in the metal world on exactly what subgenre Athens, Ohio quartet Skeletonwitch belongs in, but classification shouldn't really matter as long as the music is this awesome. Breathing the Fire, the follow-up to 2007's top-notch Beyond the Permafrost, is stylistically identical to its predecessor but has even better riffs, solos, demonic vocals and horns-in-the-sky, Satan-hailing lyrics. This album is, if nothing else, incredibly goddamned metal.

Things start off a little weaker than the incredible one-two punch of "Upon Wings of Black" and "Beyond the Permafrost" from the last album, but once the record kicks into gear it's a thrashing good time, and it's clear that this is beer metal in the purest sense of the term. Tracks like "The Despoiler of Human Life" and "Crushed Beyond Dust" storm into the room, take no prisoners, and leave sword-filled corpses and crushed PBR cans in their wake. This is music that the listener is almost required to bang your head to, and if that was Skeletonwitch's only goal, then the album is a runaway success.

That said, this band could still stand to tighten the screws a little bit. Very few of the songs feel fully fleshed out, and the album feels somewhat incomplete as a result. Skeletonwitch seem to have a handle on the riff-writing and solo-writing processes, but are still eluded by the songwriting process. Still, there's a lot of promise for the future. The brilliantly titled "Repulsive Salvation" is an honest-to-God song, with a beginning, middle, and end, and there's no compromising of intense riffs and shredding solos as a result. That song is the obvious highlight of this disc, and the 'Witch should try to recreate what they did there (as well as on "Baptized in Flames" from the Beyond the Permafrost album) in the future.

I've sold this album somewhat short by complaining about its shortcomings, because it's still a solid thrash record with a nonstop barrage of riffs and no shortage of moments that demand headbanging. I'm just hoping that the next time Skeletonwitch release a full-length, the awesome riffs and solos evolve into awesome songs somewhat more often. It's not as if I'm going to stop worshiping the 'Witch in the meantime.

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