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When the first seconds of Snakeskin Angels' debut Witchchapel kicked I immediately remembered the first time I heard Midnight Chaser's Rough and Tough EP. Pure oldschool proto-metal in the style of fellow Swedes In Solitude but with a slightly less obvious Mercyful Fate influence. Another reference point would be Witchcraft from the UK - both bands go for a stripped down, vintage guitar tone but Snakeskin Angels leans less towards the Sabbath worship and more towards early 70's Priest. The emphasis falls solely on the guitar playing of Grim Vindkall and Daniel Kvist and the riffs which they craft. Drums are somewhat subdued and mixed lightly, there is little emphasis there which separates Snakeskin Angels from what I would call a true oldschool throwback since there was such an influence on big bombastic drums during the late 70's and the period which they are drawing main influence from.
What we have at hand on Witchchapel, aside from a compound word which shouldn't be - it should be Witch Chapel... there's no reason to combine the two words - are five tracks of average length complete with a large amount of excellent leads and dramatic melodies. Threefaced Saviour is an example of well written melodies and themes with a memorable climax peaking as the song ends and a sweet intro complete with church organs and Deep Purple aesthetic but not a Deep Purple style. Though I'm not sure who contributed the keyboard parts, they aren't as intricate as something Jon Lord would compose, instead settling for simple chord-only background filler and this sets the band apart; they seem to create more of a focus on the overall imagery they music invokes than purely rocking out though they are perfectly capable of doing so at times.
So when third track, Threefaced Saviour beings with an awesome intro riff and carries on through with compelling melodies and leads I expect the whole of the album to be similar. The opening two tracks are decent and nothing worth criticizing really - they have good riffs, cool leads, and though - as mentioned earlier - the drumming doesn't do much, at least the songs are proud of themselves and where they go. Snakeskin Angels are good at composing songs and every song here is a capable contender on the album though Beneath Me felt stiff and repetitive at moment, for others I doubt my qualms would prick a nerve. They solve the repetitiveness near the end of the song with some leads piled above the overused rhythm but for me it doesn't hide the fact that the song rides a lonely horse. The band's strongest point is how they make use of atypical melodies for this throwback style. The title track does this well with Snakeskin Angels and they deepen the mix with some acoustic guitars to balance the strange melodies with something more familiar. They may come across as the band stumbling into an America rehearsal, though.
To round out the whole release, Thunderbolt on vocals really comes across as someone not particularly talented though dedicated. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. The best comparison for his vocals is the unreleased track Virus off Iron Maiden's Best of the Beast compilation. It's uncanny how similar they are in every way. Thunderbolt for this band doesn't need to be something he isn't though. When you look at the whole project, there is a certain garage-band recklessness and bare-knuckles approach. Ultimately, I can't condemn this or denigrate it. A little work and Snakeskin Angels may have something bordering on what Enforcer or a less "metal" Wolf. I like the groups coming out of Sweden doing these things and I hope they take the same turn that the 70's bands did and really muscle up. The band is worth a listen for fans of Heavy Metal oldschool style and hard rock but those looking for something more extreme won't find it here.
Originally written for Contaminated Tones