Most bands, when making the same general album each release, tend to sound less and less vital, and therefore progressively worse, each successive time. Some bands, like Motörhead, can make that same album sound just as vital and good every time through, no matter how many times they’ve released an essentially identical album. Skeletonwitch, meanwhile, have upped the ante on all of their competitors: They’ve managed to sound better with each successive release, despite the fact that their formula remains largely similar with each song and album, a trend that continues on their stunning new slab of “Soul-Thrashing Black Sorcery”, Serpents Unleashed.
Then again, to say that the Skeletonwitch formula hasn’t changed on SU compared to Beyond the Permafrost or even Forever Abomination is rather disingenuous. This is probably most evident in the aesthetic of many of the riffs on display here. As compared to their other albums, especially FA, Skeletonwitch employ far more melodic and, frankly, epic riffs throughout, such as those on “Unending, Everliving” or on “Born Of The Light That Does Not Shine”. Even the more traditionally Skeletonwitch-y songs, like the singles “Burned From Bone”, “I Am Of Death (Hell Has Arrived)”, and the title track, have much more evocative melodies, so that Skeletonwitch can now soul-thrash you blackly, but beautifully, all upon a majestic steed (as opposed to their prior formula of just soul-thrashing you blackly).
That said, the majority of the Skeletonwitch identity remains unchanged, only refined. Drummer Dustin Boltjes turns in a fiendish performance behind the kit, igniting pits and windmills for days (especially around the 2:00 mark of “I Am Of Death”), while bassist Evan Linger makes Lemmy proud with his deft use of that great Rickenbacker bass sound. Vocalist Chance Garnette once again cleaves souls and peels paint from the walls with his vicious shrieks, complementing the chaos below him perfectly. That’s not to mention Skeletonwitch’s continuation of their reign as the most metal lyricists on the planet (“I Am of Death”? “Born Of The Light That Does Not Shine”? Can you get more metal than that? I think not.).
Skeletonwitch also benefit immensely from two collaborators who are the only two people who can make me check out a band regardless of the music contained therein: John Dyer Baizley and Kurt Ballou. John Baizley turns in another stunning cover for Serpent Unleashed, though this may be the first I’ve seen from him without a Rubenesque woman upon it. The man seriously can’t do anything wrong, whether it’s an impeccable, frame-worthy cover like this or his fantastic music as the mainman of Baroness. Kurt Ballou provides a huge boost to the sonic capabilities of this band and album, as he lends his stupefying production skills to this album. I swear no one can get you a better rhythm section sound in the land of the living, especially with regards to his absolutely, positively perfect visceral-but-clear drum tone. He truly gives Skeletonwitch that extra boost to go from a heavy band to a neck-snappingly heavy band, and bumps up their windmill speeds to levels only seen by the strongest Category 5 hurricanes.
When it’s all said and done, though, the true reason this album is so good, so perfect, are the songs and riffs, as I intimated to a point above. This group of songs is seriously one of the best your going to hear all year; they transcend merely being nice and heavy to become epic anthems chanted in the name of metal. This is the kind of album that makes me, and should make you, proud to be a metalhead. I recently saw an article from the blog Invisible Oranges regarding the tour these guys are going on with Amon Amarth and Enslaved early next year (which you should TOTALLY go to, or even enter our contest to win tickets and other desirable goodies from), in which he considered all of the bands on the tour old news, essentially blacklisted the tour as “so 2007”. Let me tell you, that guy clearly hadn’t listened to Serpents Unleashed yet, ‘cause if he had, he would’ve figured out real quick that he was dead wrong. This should easily make plenty of best-of-the-year lists, and with good reason; you can bet good money that it’ll be on mine. Do yourself a huge solid, and get yourself a copy of this absolute banger as soon as inhumanly possible.