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Beckoning shadows of the past. - 87%

hells_unicorn, March 6th, 2011

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.