Skeletonwitch has been reborn.
In late 2014, the black metal band was faced with an existential crisis. After over a decade of churning out thrasy power metal albums and touring the world over, they kicked out vocalist Chance Garnette, older brother to lead guitarist Nate Garnette, and part of the original trio who started the band with guitarist Scott Hedrick in their hometown of Athens, Ohio.
During an off day on a northeast tour, Chance Garnette became drunk and violent. While the details were not made public, he was arrested for “assault and battery on a family/household member.” The band continued the tour without him and three days after fired him.
Skeletonwitch rose to prominence in the metal world behind “Beyond the Permafrost,” released in 2007 on Prosthetic Records. Their third album, “Breathing the Fire,” debuted on the Billboard charts. They toured on Ozzfest, with Danzig, The Black Dahlia Murder, Amon Marth and were featured on an Adult Swim compilation “Metal Swim.”
Facing an idenity crisis, Nate Garnette and Hedrick decided to soldier on, recruiting vocalist Adam Clemans (Wolvhammer, Veil of Maya). They released their sixth studio album, “Devouring Radiant Light” to high acclaim in 2018.
While the core of the band’s thrash-based black metal remained, the new album took a number of new directions, with slower, melodic sections giving way to the band’s “meat and potatoes,” lightening-fast heavy riffs.
Hedrick took over the majority of writing duties for the new album and Clemans vocal range allowed the band to dip into territory more akin to Baroness than contemporaries like Goatwhore and Toxic Holocaust.
The band’s rebirth has breathed new life into the project for Hedrick and company while keeping the foundation of their black metal solidly in place.
Skeletonwitch returns to Savannah on a major U.S. tour with Portrayal of Guilt, Soft Kill and Wiegedood, Martydod and Devil Master. They’ll have the first three bands with them in Savannah on May 13.
Do: With Adam coming on board, and the band taking a new direction, does this feel like a restart for the band?
Scott Hedrick: "Yeah, I think it does actually. Adam was one factor. After we kicked out Chance, Nate and I did some soul searching and decided if this was something we wanted to continue doing. We walked to the edge and decided if we wanted to call it or not. We decided to keep going.
"With that, and I don’t think I voiced this at the time, I made a decision to take more of the creative reigns of the band. In the past, Nate was the main songwriter. We switched roles a little bit.
"Starting with the EP, that was the first time I wrote the majority of the material. I continued for ‘Devouring Radiant Light’ as well. There’s a significant difference because of Adam, but other things changed as well that not everyone was aware of.
"For me, I absolutely felt like it was an opportunity to start over and do some stuff I’ve been wanting to do for a while."
It’s the perfect opportunity to take a new direction. This new album is so solid. I was talking with my friend about how it’s rare that metal bands get better with age.
"Yeah, most of them don’t actually. There’s a lot of reasons for that. I would argue that it’s case-specific, certainty. One of the factor’s that everyone faces is age and time and experience. I am not the same person I was when Nate and I were undergrad students in college, writing ‘Beyond the Permafrost’ together. I would also argue — people who complain, I don’t like them anymore, I like what they used to do. Well then go back and listen to those records that we did because they’re not going anywhere.
"If we continue to do something because we had already done it and we felt like people really loved ‘Beyond the Permafrost,’ let’s just do that, I think it would come across much worst. It would be like oh, Skeletonwitch isn’t good anymore. It would be disingenuous.
"First of all, I would rather just do what I want to do creatively. Number two, if someone is going to take a shot at what we’re up to, I would much rather them be like ‘I don’t get this new, weird stuff.’ I would much rather they don’t get, or are not fans of the style, then them saying oh, I like this band, but their trying to do the same thing and they’re failing. I don’t want to be tired and old and beating a dead horse. I would rather them jump ship because it got too weird for 'em."
What I think is great about this album is that it’s full of solid Skeletonwitch songs. The musical foundation is still there. It just felt like you were just expanding on that. Did it feel like that when you were writing?
"Yeah, it did. Because, I mean, we have a certain style. I ended up writing more than I usually do, a majority of the record. Nate is still there and he’s always been the meat and potatoes thrashy guy. Throughout our old records, the stuff that was longer and flirted with longer song structures and maybe had some different stuff, that was always me. Both of our elements were always there. I was given more free reign and just kind of took it.
"Before, it would be tough to even sneak on a song like ‘This Evil Embrace,’ which is a longer. more melodic, drawn-out song on ‘Serpents Unleashed.’ Everything shifted where I could present something to everyone and feel like it wouldn’t be shot down ahead of time.
"The fundamentals are still there: the melodic riffs and Nate’s s more thrasy stuff. If we can’t perform it live, then don’t write or record it that way. This album starts with like 15 guitar tracks. You can’t tell because they’re stacked up and harmonized. There are more guitar tracks on there than you can ever play. Same for throughout the record. It can still be done live, but it’s not the same and we don’t use backing tracks. We can chose out to represent it. We decided that the record and the live show should be two different experiences."
Adam’s range too is so varied. I guess that gives you more room to play, too?
"Yeah, definitely. Chance was more restrictive. ‘I am the singer. Write some songs and send them to me and get out of the way.’ You get a better result if you actually have some constructive criticism and go back and forth and it’s more of a process. With Adam, we did. He can handle and dish out constructive criticism. That made for a much better environment for writing. He had a melodic and dynamic ideas that were great.
"We were able to say, maybe dial it back here Adam. There were conversations happening that never would have happened with Chance that were very refreshing and resulted in a more creative record.
Sounds like the dynamic changed, too?
"Yeah, a hundred percent. Everyone is happy now! [laughs]"
Obviously, you’re touring the new album, but how deep do you get into the catalog on tour these days?
"It depends. Each tour, we just sit down and throw around a setlist and everyone gives suggestions until we feel like it’s a good one. We’re definitely going to lean on more of the new stuff. Some of the songs on the new record, we haven’t even played live yet. We’ve done some, but not much in the U.S. It’s been mostly in Europe. Of course, we’re going to play from all of the stuff. It’s a mix for sure.
"We’re definitely going to deep on the newer stuff. It's fun for us. It’s stuff we worked on with Adam. We put out the EP and toured stuff. There were only four songs that Adam had written with us. His repertory of old Skeletonwitch stuff was pretty deep. It was doing four sets. It’s going to be fun to have a lot more new stuff with him performing."
Are you writing new material right now?
"I have some new ideas. I haven’t really sat down to write the next record. It’s really funny to be this far into a band’s life and feeling like you’re just getting started, writing wise. I have way many more ideas than I can even put on the last record. Those made sense together and it made for a good record.
"The stuff I listen to is so far outside metal and has been for years. It’s got more and more that way. I am starting to do commercial and film and television work."
What are you listening to right now?
"Right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of avant garde, modern composers. Lately, it’s been a lot of weird stuff."
Like John Cage?
"Yeah. Definitely, definitely! I am reading a book right now about Alvin Lucier called ‘Music 109: Notes on Experimental Music.' It’s really really good. It came up with Cage and [David] Tudor and all those guys and taught and performed with them. This book is him explaining all of his favorite works by these people. Basically, giving an oral history of the late 20th century modern experimental movement told through the eyes of one of the guys who was a part of it. It’s really great. It’s so much stuff I listen to.
"Reading about it, you understand how they did this and why they did this and what the purpose behind it was. It makes a lot more sense when you’re listening to some ambient, noise piece or out there vocals. And you’re like 'Oh! Yeah. That’s what they were doing.'
"You may be like, how does that manifest itself into a modern metal band? It’s the same as if you read a book or watched a movie that moves you in some way. You’re a journalist, so you know this. How many times in interviews do people say this album was inspired by this book or this movie? But you might not know that it’s the same thing.
"You can be inspired by free jazz, like I am — I am a huge Farrow Sanders fan — but it doesn’t mean you’re going to hear it."
With literature — that seems really prevalent in the metal world. There are so many bands that have stuff about epic novels. Think about early Mastodon. I always felt like there was a correlation between literature and metal.
"Oh yeah. If you cut out H.P. Lovecraft, you’d lose half of metal."
That’s the best quote ever, and true.
"Yeah, you can use that as a pull quote. If you cut H.P. Lovecraft, you’d lose half of metal, including some Metallica."
Very true. That’s the way it goes for all art though. You find your influences in all kinds of places.
"Oh yeah, even the same medium can influence your music, even if it doesn’t sound like it."