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Album Review: SKELETONWITCH Serpents Unleashed

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Is it October in an odd-numbered year? Then it's clearly time for another Skeletonwitch record, right? Ignoring 2004's At One With the Shadows – an easy task since most fans don't seem to even realize it exists – the band have been on a steady 24-month Halloween-themed pace since 2007's classic breakthrough, Beyond the Permafrost.

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Skeletonwitch albums tend to be short and to the point for a reason: a little of this goes a long way. Try listening to the entire discography front-to-back without the deja vu kicking your ass even harder than the riffs. Taken in concentrated doses, however, this is potent stuff, a giddy thaumaturgy of 90's melodic death enriched with 80's thrash riffs and Chance Garnette's oft-polarizing goblin ass vocals.

Skeletonwitch tune is very much a riff-based creation, but it also rages by at such a clip that it's there and gone before one has had a chance to draw a bead on it. Taken at album length these whirlwind blasts – Children of Bodom energy levels crossed with an early In Flames riff obsession – almost requires a certain brevity, so it's perhaps all the better that Serpents Unleashed clocks in at barely over a half hour.

As expected, there are no new tricks under Skeletonwitch's sun, but ragers like "I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)" and the title track prove that theirs is a formula that has yet to be undermined by familiarity. Like the classic death metal of the early 90's, continued interest is ensured through sheer, unflagging tenacity; tempos rarely downshift, and when they do it's not for long.

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You get a little over a minute of minor key, moody intro work apiece on "Unending Ever Living" and "More Cruel Than Weak", but from there you're on your own, holmes. Dustin Boltjes (drums) and Evan Linger (bass) maintain a throttling gallop of a rhythm section, enough to ensure guitarists Nate Garnette and Scott Hedrick saddle sores for weeks. Chance Garnette belts bile atop it all in what at times resembles a genre-displaced black metal shriek… it's that mild "fish out of water" touch that adds a little distinction to a band that is admittedly plying a pretty shopworn melange of genre tropes otherwise.

Alright, look: it's true, there is very little to prefer in Serpents Unleashed over their prior catalog on Prosthetic, but that's no fault of Serpents UnleashedSkeletonwitch are on a resilient run of demanding roadwork balanced with the need for a steady supply of new material. That they keep all of those balls in the air without faltering quality-wise is a testament to greatness in itself, their discography an accessible wheel where every album is an equally indispensable spoke.


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