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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.