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Skeletonwitch have come a long way since their debut full-length album, At One With the Shadows, headlining tours in an explosion of what seemed to be overnight cult fame. But what did The Witch sound like before signing with Prosthetic Records? The physical CD being out of print now, At One With the Shadows marks the first audio release by the band, as their first release was a live DVD sold at shows on their first tour.
"The Skullsplitter" barges through the speakers with heart pounding drums and lightning fast shredding that is enough to start melting the ears of any metalhead. Unfortunately, the production quality here is piss poor and any ounce of depth or bass is sucked dry from the content, leaving it hollow with a cardboard feel. Attending a live concert would most likely fair better quality-wise. However, once this barrier is scaled and with the use of some imagination, the actual content that lies within is decent.
Unique to many of the other thrash metal records out there, this album holds a place for acoustic segments in a few tracks... namely "The Skullsplitter", "Onward to Battle" and "Tragedy of Days". These tight, refreshing breaks are akin to the fluid slower tempo solos scattered throughout the material. Not to say that there aren't any finger melting fast solos, one of the best being in "Baptized in Flames", because there are plenty to go around.
Chance Garnette's vocals are brought to shame in At One With the Shadows due to the poor production quality. Noise-filled froth is the result from higher pitched parts which clash horrendously with the lead treble-ridden guitar, and the track overall is too loud over the suffering muffle of the instruments. There are the rare times that this works out in favor of Skeletonwitch, the lead guitar begins a howling solo that binds with the vocals and creates a small mesh between the two.
"The Skullsplitter" and "Onward to Battle" would later go on to become two out of three tracks on a demo following this release. Alongside "Within My Blood", "Baptized in Flames" and "Vengeance Will Be Mine" reincarnated onto a later full-length record entitled Beyond the Permafrost. With good reason as well, as all of the tracks just listed are stronger of this material. "Within My Blood" has one of the most highly recognizable introductory hooks of any Skeletonwitch song; furious alternating picking layers over a snare/bass drum beat before coming to a short, slower bridge and alternating this composure throughout the majority of the track, leaving some fast areas extended for majority.
Though with the aforementioned tracks, the importance of "Every Corpse Shall Burn" and the title track "At One With the Shadows" shouldn't be forgotten. Both of these songs have equally memorable riffs, picking patterns and catchy drum beats. One of the most melodious solos from this content exists within "At One With the Shadows", and the lyrics are backed beat-wise by both the guitar and drum tracks.
Unfortunently, there is not much to comment on when it comes to the bass. What can be heard in some of the better quality songs such as the title track really does a great job in chaining the guitar and drums together with some walking bass lines, but the majority of At One With the Shadows just has a ball of muffled bass sitting under the rest of the tracks.
A solid debut release hindered by production value, this album has some incredibly memorable content and is the foundation of what Skeletonwitch built themselves off of. Showing this by incorporating various songs into later releases, even "Tragedy of Days" made a come back on Forever Abomination as a bonus track. It's good to hear Skeletonwitch incorporating their roots into later material, and At One With the Shadows reminds us of those roots.
If you want that underground old school thrash metal production quality atmosphere, then this release should be at the top of your to-hear list, otherwise later content is a better representation of just how powerful these songs really are.
- Villi Thorne
While many simply lump this band in with an onslaught of largely derivative bands in the recent thrash revivalist trend, Skeletonwitch comes from a very unique perspective on extreme metal, one that is particularly of note on their obscure and often considered obsolete debut “At One With The Shadows”. The fact that this was allowed to go out of print and has since seen many of its songs rerecorded for subsequent releases gives weight to both its obscurity and the arguments in favor of it being a non-essential album for fans of the band. Truth be told, from the perspective of most fans of revivalist thrash, this is probably not a good album to seek out and part with blood, sweat and tears over since it isn’t presented in the same light as popular works out of Warbringer and Municipal Waste.
In some ways this could be seen as a throwback, particularly to those albums which the departed Euronymous of Mayhem had referred to as being “masterpieces of black stinking metal”. The vocal interpretation is more in line with early 90s black and death metal practices, but the riff work and melodic material is heavily informed by Teutonic thrash and the same early heavy metal practitioners that also informed the Gothenburg scene. The production is quite humble, almost to the point of emulating the low-fi tendencies of early Bathory and Hellhammer, and is often seen as a downside to this somewhat disputed work. But to the contrary, the creepy atmosphere and distant sounding instruments is an essential part of what makes this album work, presenting an interesting mixture of early 80s and early 90s aesthetics that are often not explored by most present thrash metal outfits.
That same blistering display of fast paced riffing that made “Persecution Mania” has been modified with a number of harmonically consonant tendencies in the music and an utterly anti-melodic barrage of indecipherable vocalizations that go back and forth between channeling Pest and Chris Barnes. There are a few little acoustic breaks that seemingly crop out of nowhere, but largely this beast stays methodical and on full out attack, as can be observed on particularly streamlined cruisers in “The Skullsplitter”, “Vengeance Will Be Mine” and “No Rest For The Dead”. These songs are short enough and vile enough to pass for something “Reign In Blood” junkies can consumer, but is a bit less chaotic and all over the place. The solo work is where the band really separates themselves from even the most restrained of extreme thrash bands, avoiding the Slayer cliché of loading up on chromatic runs and whammy bar noise, or taking the otherwise popular route of blazing pentatonic runs, and sounding much more melodic.
While this is largely an album informed by the most extreme works of the mid 80s, the band takes several deviations from said paradigm and moves forward or back a couple years in how they present their musical material, though the vocal presentation remains constant. “Within My Blood” particularly sounds heavily Iron Maiden informed, in spite of the fast tempo, throwing out a number of droning melodic guitar lines that remind particularly of the famed NWOBHM proponent’s first two releases with Di’Anno at the microphone. By contrast, “Baptized In Flames” is all but perfectly lifted out of the Gothenburg paradigm with a heavily consonant yet blurring set of tremolo melodies at its inception followed by a similarly groovy riff set and blackened mutterings to top it off. The closing instrumental “Tragedy Of Days” takes the same formula a step further and accents some acoustic work alongside sorrowful blend of melodic black/death metal and old school lead breaks.
If there was a joining of this band with the popular revivalist movement in present day thrash metal, it didn’t really occur until “Beyond The Permafrost”, and is still nonetheless a limited relation based on a commonly shared interest in older thrash conventions. This is an album that comes off as both filthy and fresh, and is a good pickup by fans of the darker side of 80s thrash and early occult themed death metal. Naturally the scarcity of this album due to the band’s own seeming lack of desire in continuing to promote it or rerelease it makes the task of tracking it down difficult, but if there is a copy to obtain and money to be spent, then best trade that green in for a different kind of blackness.
This is the first long play of one of the better american extreme metal acts to have risen in the past decade, mighty Skeletonwitch. And while many metalheads insist in cataloguing them amongst the rank and file of the lackluster thrash revival scene, actually the Witch is well above the vast majority of those bands in terms of quality, delivery and originality. Sure, they have “thrash” deeply carved on their crooked bones, and all elements of their music have been done before, but still their sound is so refreshing and blatantly ass-kicking that there’s no choice but to worship their black thrashing demonic spells and head-bang to them like there’s no tomorrow.
However, At One With the Shadows is far from perfect. Though anyone who knows a bit about metal will undoubtedly recognize the musical capabilities and potential of this band from listening to this record, they will also find a pretty poor production work and only 30 minutes of Skeletonwitch’s brand of blackened thrash with a tiny bit of oldschool death metal and good ol’ fashioned NWOBHM (specially evident in the classic metal, melodic solos) and occasional acoustic flourishes here and there. And as good as the songs here are, they’re not in the finest form one could have wished for, not in the amount necessary to consider this a compelling long play.
“Skullsplitter” starts the album, and as its name suggests, it bluntly cracks the cranial top of the listener with solid blast-beats and rapid-fire riffage. And yes, riffs will be found here in great amount and quality. All of the songs have their more-than-average share of memorable riffs, extremely catchy, provoking compulsive headbangerism to any nearby metalhead, thus giving them the same amount of excellence, something particularly important in an album this short. My favorites are, the already mentioned opener, the title-track itself, “Onward to Battle” with its driving Maiden-esque melodies combined with an epic viking metal vibe, and the instrumental closer, “Tragedy of Days”, with some of the best soloing of the album, and its acoustic book-like intro and outro. “Within My Blood” is also worth mentioning, though that song would be perfected tenfold for the Witch next long play.
Musicianship here, despite the horrible production, is top-notch, showing that the band members were already seasoned metal musicians. Chance Garnett’s unholy throat spews forth blasphemy and pestilence in both screechy black metal and Neanderthal-ish death metal fashion with an equally evil proficiency. His brother, “N’eight feet under” Garnett and Scott Hendrick, the guitar team, are the backbone of the band, and also its skeletal fists and clawed hands, providing a rich array of outstanding, though not groundbreaking, riffs, melodies and solos. Jimmy Shestina’s four-string galloping reminds me of a more metal and less virtuosic Geddy Lee, because of the rich organic tone of his bass. Perhaps, only a young Derrick Nau at the drumkit would still have to musically mature a little bit, though he does a more than decent job here, with its dynamic fills and pounding double bass work.
And though the imperfect, raspy production does a lot of damage to the overall experience that is As One With the Shadows, fortunately for us, dear metal brothers and sisters, most of this album’s songs would be eventually re-recorded. First, “Vengeance Will be Mine”, “Baptized in Flames” and “Within My Blood” on 2007’s Beyond the Permafrost, and more recently “At One With the Shadows”, “The Skullsplitter” and “No Rest For the Dead” in their own vinyl singles. I have to yet listen to the singles, but the Beyond the Permafrost versions got the justice they deserved production-wise.
If you are a casual fan of Skeletonwitch you’d probably want to skip this one and start right on with Beyond the Permafrost, but I recommend At One With the Shadows to any fan of well-crafted melodic extreme metal that stays true to its roots. And though better songs of this album exist, its still worth it for the sake of the ones that haven’t been redone. Also, if you enjoyed Skeletonwitch’s latest albums you might want to check out how they started, be it out of curiosity, completionism or whatnot.
Chances are that if you’ve heard of Ohio’s breakout metal alchemists Skeltonwitch, you’ve heard their second album Beyond the Permafrost. This is because BtP is the album that’s gotten wider distribution and it’s the one that, if you have it, you probably got it immediately after they blew your fucking ass away on tour. However there is an out-of-print debut album that exists with almost no circulation and it shows that the band were just as killer back in ’04 as they are today. However, unlike BtP, it is non-essential listening and may be a bit of a disappointment for those that have taken the time to track the bugger down.
As one of the many who discovered Skeletonwitch through Beyond the Permafrost, I can fully attest that listening to At One with the Shadows takes a little getting used to. Despite this being considered a full-length debut, the production is demo quality and it’s only thirty minutes in length. But everything the listener would expect is present, and for those that aren’t familiar with the band, it really is a little bit of everything. The melodic soloing and harmony riffs of power metal, the blasting drums, shrieking vocals, and dissonant tremolo riffing of black metal, and even some of the growled vocals and trademark riffs of melodic death metal: these all make an appearance in just about every song on here. The idea is not entirely new: your various deathcore bands scratched the surface of what is done here, but Skeletonwitch present the genre-blending concept in a much more fluid manner, without the clean vocals, emo lyrics, breakdowns, and obvious pilfering that those other bands are often guilty of. At One with the Shadows has its moments where it’s almost too melodic to accommodate their extreme side (the various acoustic bits that show up; some of the harmonies), but it’s a mostly pure, very headbangable metal album.
Really, as the previous reviewer agreed, the only things that hurt this are the production and the length. The raw guitar and drum sound enhances the extreme metal element, but when the melodic sections show up, they’re weaker and even awkward at times. The length issue is more subjective. I like Skeletonwitch’s music; therefore I’d rather hear more of it than less of it. Additionally, three of the songs (“Within My Blood,” “Baptized in Flames,” “Vengeance Will Be Mine”) ended up being re-recorded for Beyond the Permafrost, and since I discovered that album first, I’ve really only gotten to hear six new songs by acquiring this album: a mere twenty minutes of fresh material. However for those that are hearing this album first, it’s obviously a moot point.
The final word: don’t pass it up if you find it, but don’t spend too much time hunting for it either. Not because it’s generally weak, but because Beyond the Permafrost takes the whole idea of this album and brings it to another level.
Don’t you love it when an absolutely stellar band just sneaks up on you?
Before they took the stage (you could take that literally in this case) at Club Rockit(in Toronto for those who don't live here), I didn’t know who they were. A band hasn’t made such an instant impact on me live like this is a while so of course I had to tell you folks about them.
At One With The Shadows is the debut album from Skeleton Witch from Athens, Ohio, yes I said debut.
What we have here is a 30 minute hellstorm of an album, Skeleton Witch combine elements of thrash, black metal, NWOBHM, and melodic death metal in order to create a hyper-aggressive and intense mesh that will full kick your ass and you will enjoy said ass kicking. This album has everything, crushing bass lines, great guitar work in the form of some monster riffs, maidenesque harmonies, drumming that feels you’ve been tossed into a centrifuge, and Chance’s primal screams work nicely as your own personal usher to the gates of hell.
I only have 2 real issues with this album and those are it’s too damn short, I want more Skeleton Witch dammit. The second is the production level, which really isn’t all that bad, maybe a tad bass heavy, but it’s not enough that it effects the listener’s enjoyment of the album.
As mentioned before this album has something pretty much any metal fan should enjoy, it’s most definitely worth a listen or five, they’re amazing live, and if you can get your hands on this album I strongly suggest you do so.