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Three years after their debut album, At One With the Shadows, the Witch launched its second strike, a 36-minute collection of headbang-inducing awesome riffs, pounding and speedy rhythms, sacrilegious vocal assaults and classy melodic solos, collectively known as Beyond the Permafrost. To many metalheads, this is the proper Skeletonwitch album to start with, and though personally I think At One With the Shadows deserves a chance to be heard, there certainly is a HUGE difference in quality and delivery from that solid debut to this iced riff monstrosity.
To be honest, this was the first Skeletonwitch album I listened to. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, though their excellent John Baizley cover artwork and magnificent logo (another massive improvement from their debut) seemed good signs. Nonetheless, I wasn’t exactly prepared for what I encountered. Beyond the Permafrost grabbed me by the balls with its frozen skeletal claw and never let go! I just had to listen to the first seconds of the opening song, “Upon Wings of Black”, to realize that this was going to be a “modern” metal masterpiece. For this has been empowered by the demons of old but crafted quite recently, in the second half of the past decade.
An experienced metalhead will found a lot of influences here. Most riffs here are classic 80’s thrash, like Vio-lence or Destruction. The raspy vocals and sinister melodies owe a lot to 90’s melodic extreme metal acts like Dissection or Sentenced, while the lower death growls are more the type of Bolt Thrower. And the memorable solos scream out loudly HEAVY METAL ala Priest. However, Skeletonwitch produces much more than just an amalgamation of varied influences of the wide metal spectrum. They have a style of their own, and though Chance Garnett’s vocals or the guitar team’s riffs can be compared to endless acts out there, they still sound like an original band, with a sound and style of their own. They’re not mere recyclers; they’re creators of high caliber melodic extreme metal.
Though “only” 36 minutes in length, Beyond the Permafrost has everything done right, each of its 2 to 4 minute rapid scorchers pummeling you senseless to the ground. And this is coming from someone who enjoys Dream Theater and 20-minute songs (though not as much as this!). Truly, all twelve fast anthems of death and destruction contained here are memorable and extremely catchy, and now backed up by a great production work, which is just perfect for this band. It might not appeal to everybody, cos it’s a bit thin, but I’m convinced it gives a lot of character to this album, its add as a very apt vibe of creepy coldness and also lets you enjoy what’s been done by each instrument or all of them together as well.
The guitar team of Nate Garnett and Scott Hendrick continue to shine in all areas, be it rhythmic or lead playing. Chance Garnett’s outstanding vocals, along with the guitars, are the leading elements of this ritual of evil, but the rhythmic section also performs brilliantly. New bass-guy, Eric Harris, besides having a true metal surname for a bassist, is also a compelling player, as stated by his fantastic mini bass solo in “Within My Blood”. And finally, Derrick Nau’s drum fills and lightning-fast patterns are really enjoyable, and though he never becomes stellar, he consistently remains an excellent backbone for the rest of the band. He really improved and refined his abilities behind the kit, as you’ll notice if you listen to their previous album.
So what about highlights here? Damn man! Well, I think depends more on personal taste, since all twelve tracks are pure, uncompromising, brilliant pieces of soul thrashing black sorcery (pun intended). The already mentioned opener is just mind-blowing. It’s followed by the title-track, which is equally magnificent, with its ultra catchy chorus. And then the next song owns, and the next after that, and so on, you just can’t go wrong with any of them. The re-recorded songs from the previous long play are given the treatment they deserved, and here they thrash with full demonic force.
I must say I somewhat agree with a reviewer that mentioned that the album gets a bit weaker at the end. I do think that “Remains of the Defeated” and “Feast Upon Flesh” are the less interesting and memorable of the tracks here, but for me the indisputable strongest track, the crowning jewel of this frost masterpiece, is the closer “Within My Blood”, completely perfected from its 2004 version. For me it’s easily the best 2007 metal song, I just love every single second of its 4 minutes of pure adrenaline discharge, from the driving, complete Maiden-worship melodies to the closing spectacular solos and the “Hallowed Be Thy Name” drum ending. Too much Maiden you say? Well, let’s not forget Chance Garnett vomiting forth its tormented lyrics:
I haven’t stopped listening to this helluva record since I listened to it for the first time, and I don’t think I ever will. I immediately fell prey to its hellish charm, becoming like a drug to me. I consider this the best 2007 metal album and one of my all-time favorites ever. It made me love this band and maniacally crave for any new material they’ve put ever since. And that is why, my dear metal brothers and sisters, I have to utterly recommend Beyond the Permafrost to any of you searching for an unparalleled masterpiece of melodic extreme metal that effortlessly combines elements of some of the finest epochs and genres of metal. Don’t stay frozen there! GET IT MOTHERFUCKIN’ NOW!