The thrash metal band Skeletonwitch creates stunning grooves that not only inspire head-banging but will also twist rhythmically through your pelvis and viscera. Believe it or not—amid the frenzied onslaught of twin-guitar riffs, pile-driver beats and singer Chance Garnette's shredded hellhound vocals—Skeletonwitch swings.
Turns out that groove is an important ingredient in the storm summoned by this Ohio-based band, whose music has been equally influenced by classic thrash, Scandinavian variants such as death and black metal and the hallowed New Wave of British metal of the early 1980s.
"(Groove) is not something people talk about much when they are talking about us. It's not something that's thought out in advance, but now that you mention it, rhythm is pretty important to us," says guitarist Scott Hedrick, who founded the band with guitarist Nate Garnette (brother of Chance) in 2003 when they were students at Ohio University in Athens.
"Chance and Nate were both drummers in high school bands, so that probably filtered into our musical values somehow, you know, emphasizing rhythm in the cadence of the bottom and in the riffs, too."
Skeletonwitch is on tour with their friends in the melodic death metal band The Black Dahlia Murder. The two acts will play Sunday, Nov. 17, at The Rock, along with bands Fallujah and Noisem.
During its decade of existence, Skeletonwitch has seen lots of trends in heavy music—screamo, metalcore, mathcore, stoner rock—arise and, sometimes, fade away.
"Being that we have lasted through the trends and not really been a part of them, and have come through it all to where we are now, we don't really relate to this tendency to break things down into smaller and smaller categories, or to try and be the next big sound," Hedrick says.
The metal world is a small one, and its denizens—fans and fellow musicians alike—have keen bullshit detectors, he adds.
"There's only so much marketing spin you can put on it. We're not into the latest look or being labeled this metal and that metal. We're just looking to play the heaviest and fastest we can and please ourselves," Hedrick says.
"At the risk of patting ourselves on the back, we never started out wanting to play the real 'classic' metal, or death metal or black metal. We like to think we play a workingman's version of metal."
At the heart of Skeletonwitch's music is songwriting, he says.
"Like in the best pop music, you gotta have a solid song to begin with. One of us, often me or Nate, will come into the studio with some riffs we have, and Chance will maybe have some lyrics he has been working on, and then we sit down with everyone and we work out an arrangement with the rhythm section."
Skeletonwitch also includes bassist Evan Linger and drummer Dustin Boltjes.
Speaking of songs, Skeletonwitch have 11 new ones available now. The band recently saw the release of its fifth full-length album, Serpents Unleashed, which was produced by Kurt Ballou, who also has worked with such acts as Isis, Converge and High on Fire.
The latest album is a rugged kick in the head, stocked with monstrous blast beats and lightning riffs, and tunes with extreme mythic themes, such as "I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)," "Blade on the Flesh, Blood on My Hands" and "Born of the Light That Does Not Shine." The songs are also concise, clocking in at an average of 2½ scorched-earth minutes, with no filler or chaff.
Serpents Unleashed also features a beautiful cover by artist John Baizley, who also happens to be the frontman for the band Baroness. Baizley's work has graced album covers by such artists as Kylesa, Black Tusk and Gillian Welch. Until this one, he hadn't painted a Skeletonwitch album cover since 2007's Beyond the Permafrost.
The album cover can be seen in its best presentation on the gatefold LP version. It's important to Skeletonwitch that their releases are available on vinyl, Hedrick says. And Serpents Unleashed—in addition to LP, CD, digital and cassette versions—also is available as a boxed set of six 7-inch singles, with a foldout poster of Baizley's cover art.
Skeletonwitch also happens to possess what is possibly the best name for a metal band ever. It's dark, playful and alludes to a creature that—though it's never existed, to the band's knowledge—sounds an awful lot like it was dragged from some obscure backwoods or gothic fable.
"We just chose the name at the last minute," Hedrick admits. "But we've grown to like it because it sort of sounds like it means something menacing. But it's also ambiguous. You can't really tell by the band's name what we are going to sound like."
Although the band started in Athens, most of the members now live in nearby Midwest towns. "I am the last member living in Athens proper," Hedrick says. "But this is our home base."
But spending seven to eight months on the road per year means that band members see their homes less than their families and pets—four of the five members own cats—would like. But they wouldn't have it any other way. This is a band made for touring.
Or as Hedrick put it in the band's bio, "White van, black T-shirt: That's been my life since we started Skeletonwitch. We love and live for the road. We'll play the enormo-dome or we'll play in your fucking closet—we don't care as long as we get to play. Being out there on the road and mixing it up with all the metalheads is what it's all about. We're all one and the same, and if we weren't fortunate enough to be on the stage, we'd be right in front of it banging our heads."