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Worship the Witch is the third installment from blackened thrashers, Skeletonwitch. The material coming this time in the form of an EP, having previously released a full-length album and a demo. This EP is self released and is comprised of a mix of three new songs and two songs from previous releases. Is the content here enough to justify the need to release this EP?
The entirety of the content has a far superior audio quality when compared to the releases that came before it. There is an echo that surrounds the drums and helps to set this track apart from the other layers. For the first real time the bass guitar actually stands out and is decently audible, adding a crunchier groove to the songs than what was manufactured before. This would be thanks to the work of Eric Harris, then-bassist for Skeletonwitch who makes his debut with the band on this EP.
It's really difficult to put a rating on this release. On one hand, you have a higher production value that comes equipped with decent layering and mastering. On the other, everything up to this point has been sorely repeated. Lack of fresh material, or even material that doesn't show up on a later album, really makes this release unnecessary and more of a sampler to showcase a more vibrant sound and new line up. "Fire From the Sky" was even taken directly from their free demo, which featured another bassist oppose to Eric Harris, and not rerecorded.
"Beyond the Permafrost", "Feast Upon Flesh" and "Forever in the Abyss" are the three new songs present, the former would go on to become the album title for their follow up full-length album. "Forever in the Abyss" is the only content on Worship the Witch that was never previously release and has to date never been reproduced. Opening up with a slow picked guitar intro, coupled with light cymbal use on the drums and the heavy bass comes in soon thereafter, the style of this song's beginning is very similar to "Dante's Inferno" by Iced Earth. The only complaint with this track is that the beginning is somewhat glitchy, the guitar is solely in the left speaker but there is some conflict in the right speaker that makes it sound like the track is struggling to come through before it finally fades in a few seconds later.
The lack of new content and growing reputation for redistributing previously released content is the largest take down for this EP. While the songs that lie within are great picks, Worship the Witch is really an unnecessary release seeing as everything here, for the exception of "Forever in the Abyss", would appear on their next release.
- Villi Thorne
This tiny EP here is actually the second release from melodic black thrashers Skeletonwitch, the powerful quintet from Athens, Ohio. After their solid yet flawed At One with the Shadows the Witch longed for further domination of the American underground metal scene, so they unleashed this twelve-minute recording of brand new material, empowered with better production and better artwork than their debut, courtesy of well known Baroness’ frontman, Mr. John Dyer Baizley. Three of the four songs contained here would later appear on their tour-de-force sophomore Beyond the Permafrost, in my opinion their best album so far. The fourth song would end up being the sole unique feature of this EP, and hasn’t been re-recorded or appeared somewhere else yet.
It all starts with next album’s title-track, “Beyond the Permafrost” itself. The production is clearer yet as meatier as on At One with the Shadows. It works out pretty fine, we can enjoy all instruments loud and clearly and Chance Garnett’s demonic vo-kills as well, especially his deeper growls, which weren’t that great on the previous record, probably because of its mediocre production. However, this version of the song sounds slower and blunter than the version of the album it gives its title. Also, the drumming is simpler, since Derrick Nau’s skills were better than before but would end up improving even more on subsequent releases. If you listen to both versions of the song, you will notice several great fills and percussion flourishes missing on the Worship the Witch EP incarnation, as well as a less compelling guitar tone, more evident in the solos. This is also the case for the other two songs on this release that were later re-recorded, “Fire from the Sky” and “Feast Upon Flesh”.
So that leaves us with the closer, “Forever in the Abyss”. It starts with a calm yet sinister acoustic guitar intro, and it slowly builds up; it stirs and stretches like an unholy fiend rising from a putrid grave. A somber melodic guitar ensues, backed up with slow drumming, and then, at around 1:19 into the song, a thrashier riff kicks in as the speed increases and Garnett’s spews forth guttural blasphemy in death metal fashion. Finally, all Hell breaks loose around 1:55 with a manic Chance Garnett high-pitched blood-chilling scream that would make Dani Filth blush, and faster pacing. The solo quickly follows, and it feels quite NWOBHM-inspired, as it normally happens with this excellent band’s brand of melodic extreme metal. And then the song ends a bit abruptly, leaving the listener craving for more. That has always been my complain with some of Skeletonwitch’s tunes, yet in that manner they ensure that you stay hooked and gives all of their releases a high replay value.
In a nutshell, the Worship the Witch EP is non-essential stuff, and only if you consider yourself a total Skeletonwitch fervent follower you might need this for completion’s sake. In fact, I do consider myself such a follower yet I won’t buy this save for a very low price. The artwork and the fourth track are the highlights here, but this is not remotely as good as the band’s following full-length’s.
Skeletonwitch are something of a curiosity, mostly because of their being an American band playing in a style that could be summed up as half German Teutonic thrash, and the other half Nordic melodic black metal drawing from moderately to overtly raw sources in the early to mid 90s. Perhaps the last band that comes to mind that was nearly as unique from a location standpoint would be that of now defunct 80s extreme thrash outfit Morbid Saint, which also possessed a peculiarly German character to their sound. This is the sort of band that is appealing because of a unique melding of accessibility and extremity, bridging a generation gap between early Bathory and Sodom with that of Gorgoroth and Darkthrone.
Early material associated with this Ohio quintet is pretty difficult to come by, particularly that of their intermediary EP “Worship The Witch”, which largely functions as a preview to their better known and breakout sophomore effort “Beyond The Permafrost”. The majority of the songs on here are to be found on said full length, though here they are much rawer, nastier, and in line with the lower fidelity mixture of venom and rage typical of a few black metal bands in the mid 90s. But the riff work is a bit more percussive, and the overall feel hearkens back to the orthodoxy of “Hell Awaits” and “Persecution Mania”. At times it literally gets difficult to figure out whether this album was put together in 1986, 1996, or 2006.
The real draw of this release is the closing song “Forever In The Abyss”, which is also the only song unique to this offering. Beginning with a very creepy intro that seems to be referring back to the haunting epic intros heard on a couple of songs off of “Darkness Descends”, things gradually work their way to a full paced thrasher, with dual harmonized riffs, melodic solos, and an ugly sepulchral collection of goblin screams and troll barks that conjure up comparisons to Nocturno Culto and Pest. The other 3 songs have similar attributes, but tend to be somewhat older in their influences, almost as if the band threw in a few earlier heavy metal ideas that were also touched upon by a handful of melodeath bands.
This is among the better EP releases I’ve come across by any variety of thrash band in 10 years, but in relation to the rest of Skeletonwitch’s discography, it is the least essential of a purchase, assuming it can be found. Some bands like to put out these shorter versions of an LP as independent releases that can stand completely on their own and not draw from recent releases or preview later ones, but this is not one of them. But for anyone who wants to hear a good release by the illegitimate offspring of Sodom and Gorgoroth, this is one among 4 good albums to look into.
Skeletonwitch broke out in the metal scene with their recent full-length, Beyond the Permafrost, but their other releases seem to be just about impossible to find. Having enjoyed the aforementioned album, I was curious about the band’s previous output, which brought me to this EP, Worship the Witch. It seems that this EP was released in preparation for their sophomore album because three out of the four songs on this EP also appear on Beyond the Permafrost. Thus, the question is whether or not the three shared songs sound better on this EP or if the extra song is good enough to justify this release. My conclusion is that, while the EP isn’t bad, it doesn’t have much to offer that you can’t find on the album.
First, the three songs that the two releases share appear here sounding almost identical to the album versions except that they appear here with worse production. The songs are still pretty good, but the production here is a little muddier. Also, I was irritated by the guitar leads’ tone, a problem that is worse here than on the album. The album also featured a headache-inducing lead guitar tone on the already weak solos, but this problem is only magnified here. Thus, the first three tracks, while still enjoyable, sound much better on the album.
That leaves only “Forever in the Abyss.” The track features all the elements that characterize Skeletonwitch: catchy riffs, diverse vocal styles, and driving drumming. Also, unlike other Skeletonwitch songs, “Forever in the Abyss” features a pretty good atmospheric intro. However, the song doesn’t seem to go anywhere from that promising beginning. The band moves into playing some decent riffs, but the song doesn’t really build up effectively so the solo and ending seem to come out of nowhere. This song probably needed a few more passages and rewrites, so it definitely doesn’t justify the release.
As completely superfluous as Worship the Witch is destined to be, the songs are still thrashy and enjoyable. Skeletonwitch’s good qualities are apparent here, they just don’t seem to be as mature as they are on Beyond the Permafrost, though. For that reason, the album is destined, rightly, to overshadow this EP. Without this release, we might not have the excellent album, but that doesn’t make this EP any more enjoyable in comparison to the album; if you like Beyond the Permafrost, you’ll never listen to Worship the Witch and if you don’t like the album, you won’t like the EP. Even from a collector’s point of view, it seems pretty unnecessary.