Hardest of all tricks for a long lived band to pull off may be the singer swap, with AC/DC being the only notable exception I can call to mind that suffered neither in popularity nor “cool points” (don’t get me started on “Van Hagar”) by playing musical chairs in front of the mic. American thrash stalwarts Skeletonwitch found themselves in need of a new mouthpiece when founding screamer Chance Garnette stepped down in 2014 due to a myriad of well publicized personal and domestic issues. Journeyman Adam Clemans of Wolvhammer/Veil of Maya fame has answered the call and the results are surprisingly, reassuringly excellent, the new blood seemingly reinvigorating the whole band on new EP “The Apothic Gloom”, stretching their blackened wings into an almost Behemoth level of heady, genre breaking experimentation.
After the opening title track’s “Fight Fire With Fire”-esque melodic intro, Clemans impresses right off the bat , his style like a cross between Garnette’s charred howl and the deeper, more pronounced prowess of Goatwhore fire breather Ben Falgoust. The intro descends into an epic, driving march anchored by guitar harmonies that are pure thrash ear candy. “Well Of Despair” quickens the pace, rollicking into a headbanging breakdown and vertigo inducing bass drop, capped off by a menacing outro. “Black Waters” fires off an NWOBHM aping riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a classic Judas Priest record, it’s sauntering groove accelerating mid-way into breakneck blastbeats, accompanied by soaring Iron Maiden quality guitar work, before operatic 7 minute closer “Red Death White Light” piles on shimmering, spiraling guitars and quick, punky drumwork in a power metal leaning, Kvelertak-esque jam.
It’s fantastic to see a workhorse band like Skeletonwitch stand tall after such a monumental personnel shakeup. I’m definitely looking forward to experiencing these new epics live and also hearing Adam Clemans’ take on the band’s classic back catalog. “To be reborn” and “rise from the ashes” indeed.