[RECAP] Skeletonwitch at Underground Arts 10/26

“Demonic… defiant… eyes of burning chaos!”

In our review of Skeletonwitch’s recent EP, “The Apothic Gloom“, we noticed that the blackened melodeath stalwarts were kicking down genre conventions like never before with that comeback victory lap, new blood Adam Clemans behind the stick giving the band’s apocalyptic jams new resonance with his grittier, earthier vocal approach.

Turns out it wasn’t just the new singer causing the mighty ‘Witch to broaden their dark horizons, as founding guitarist Scott Hedrick shared with us, getting to handpick the support for their headlining excursions allows the band to experiment with melding different metal subgenres, and the rapturous and respectful reception of the show’s disparate lineup at Underground Arts on Wednesday night, from an equally diverse but wholly enthusiastic crowd, proves the man 100% right.

Fellow Ohioans Homewrecker kicked things off excellently, a refreshingly gritty take on deathgrind, with guitarist Matt Barnum and drummer Matt Izzi trading vocal duties and having an awesome time doing it.

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I was actually kind of nervous about the type of response Oathbreaker might illicit, especially given the mixed reaction that similarly minded genre benders Deafheaven received here in Philly earlier this year opening for Lamb of God. Fortunately I do believe that the Belgian post-hardcore unit gained quite a few new followers this night, all in attendance enraptured by Caro Tanghe and company’s emotionally resonant and sonically schizophrenic attack.

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Of particular note was Baroness leader and Philadelphia local all-around man about town John Dyer Baizley joining the band onstage for “Rheia” standout and epic set closer “Immortals”. Battery life and storage capabilities be damned, I was able to capture all of this breathtaking, one of a kind performance in the most half assed quality possible for all of you fine people. Enjoy!

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Punky thrashers (thrashy punks?) Iron Reagan damn near stole the whole show, the somber and contemplative tone the crowd exhibited for Oathbreaker turned into an out of control hardcore house party at the drop of a hat. The Virginia crossover thrash collective steamrolled through a set primed to explode on contact, and the entire show floor would’ve resembled a demilitarized zone if not for all the giant goddamned smiles on everyone’s faces. Circle pits abounded, spin kicks, windmills, stage diving and crowd surfing, yet nobody came close to being butt hurt, genuinely hurt, or even the least bit douchebag-y. This is the kick ass headbanging party vibe that Iron Reagan provides. If only every live musical experience could be as thoroughly refreshing, reassuring and beautiful.

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And the best was still yet to come. Just I was initially skeptical of Adam Clemans’ vocals on “The Apothic Gloom”, and pleasantly surprised by the outcome, I was equally leery of the proposition of the new mouthpiece’s style meshing well with the existing band in a live setting, and ended up blown away by his earth rattling vocal prowess. Clemans grizzled throat is like an air raid siren on two skinny legs. I thought that he fit in well on disc, but he absolutely locks into place on stage, and if I didn’t know any better I’d think founding vocalist Chance Garnette simply shaved his head and trimmed down a bit, such is the perfection with which Clemans has siezed the mantle.

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And the other members follow his razor sharp lead, dueling guitar warriors Scott Hedrick and Nate Garnette delivering some of the best riff interplay in the business, while Evan Linger’s bass rumbles like human flesh in a great beast’s stomach and Dustin Boltjes’ kit pounds the war drums of a demon army on the march. One of the fastest, tightest and most dynamic metal outfits today, period. The five piece death squad let a set nearly perfectly conceived, all the way from ‘Upon Wings of Black” , the lead track from their 2007 debut “Beyond The Permafrost”, to my personal favorite from 2013’s “Serpents Unleashed”, “I Am Of Death”, with nearly all of the excellent “Apothic Gloom” peppered throughout.

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If you missed the ‘Witch this time out, I wouldn’t fret too much. These re-energized thrash gods are one of the hardest working bands currently touring, and are sure to come through town again soon enough, most likely with a new line up just as awesomely eclectic as this one. They’ll next embark on a European jaunt with Norwegian madmen Kvelertak. Hopefully that epic adventure goes well enough that the two groups decide to band together once more the next time they head stateside.

Kevin Hawkey is the co-founder, head writer and editor of Riot-Nerd. He enjoys Fighting Games, Metal, Marvel, Horror and all the weird shit in between. A lifelong Philadelphian just as comfortable in a circle pit at Underground Arts as he is drooling over the new Hot Toys figures at Brave New Worlds, Kevin’s idiosyncratic sensibility gives this site it’s unique dichotomy between “riot” and “nerd”.
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