Listening to the latest (and my first) from the Ohio-based metal band Skeletonwitch is like putting on that worn out, but comfortable shirt that you wore proudly for years. It may not look like much, but it still feels great and brings with it memories of years past. It recalls those years where I would sit on the school bus with an old school Walkman and blast the Metallica, Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies, and Ozzy Osbourne. When music was aggressive, in your face, and more or less did not care about what the other guys were doing. It was an uncompromising era and Skeletonwitch does a good job of delivering music heavily influenced by that era while still standing on its own two feet.
Skeletonwitch is one of the bands in the growing sub genre of retro-thrash bands alongside the likes of Municipal Waste, Toxic Holocaust, and Warbringer. They are bands that are bringing back the sound and style of the '80s, but mixing it with modern influences and taking advantage of modern production techniques.
Skeletonwitch stands out in the way they have 80's thrash down pat, but bring in some sounds that would be more at home in the black metal arena. So yes, this album could potentially be placed in the blackened thrash camp, I think it would be more appropriate to allow it to remain in the thrash corner, as the black that can be detected is more flavoring than a full on side dish.
Breathing the Fire does not waste any time getting up to speed, nor does it overstay its welcome. The twelve-song collection clocks in at just under 36-minutes. It is long enough to get its point across, short enough that it does not become repetitive, and catchy enough that you want to start it all over again as soon as it ends.
It is surprising to hear how well the pure old-school thrash meshes with the melodic brutality of black metal. On the surface the two sounds are quite different. The boys of Skeletonwitch prove they can play nicely together as the move the thrash sound forward a bit with new approaches.
The album is not exactly groundbreaking in what we get, but it is fresh. It still gets the job done. If you like aggression in your music, if you like your music with no frills or gimmicks, if you want riffs that kick you in the head, this is for you.
At the center of Skeletonwitch's attack are Nate Garnette and Scott Hedrick. The two guitar players deliver skull crushing trash riffs that seamlessly meld with melodic black metal attacks with a healthy dose of strong solo work. The sound is heavily waited to the guitar presence, without it the overall sound would greatly suffer. However, the work of Chance Garnette on vocals should not be underestimated, his distinctive growl brings a lot to how they are perceived. It is like a black metal vocalist found a new way to growl his way to the top by teaming with a thrash act.
Bottomline. This is a solid album that should find its way into the metal aficionado's collection. It is heavy, flawlessly produced, raw, and just really quite good. It is hard to go wrong with tracks like "Submit to the Suffering," "Released from the Catacombs," "Blinding Black Rage," and "And Into the Flames."