I suppose "retro" is in the eye of the beholder, but Ohio metal warlords SKELETONWITCH have never seemed like a regurgitated history lesson in denim and bullet belts to me. They get lumped in with the likes of TOXIC HOLOCAUST and MUNICIPAL WASTE primarily because their metal is so elemental, I guess. But what they're really doing is building from the same basic foundations as the "big four" did, only they're doing it while steeped in the drunken wisdom and nerd-hoarding record collections of metal disciples (read: geeks) right here in the modern day.Thus, you get songs that could have come out in the age of "Bonded By Blood", but with black metal-derived picking; you get barked Euro-thrash vocals that delve into death metal burbling and blackened croaks; you get melodic death metal accents over head-down thrash bludgeon... and above all, you get a very direct and live-sounding metal assault. Think about it... no band tours as much as SKELETONWITCH without developing, very quickly, a keen sense of what's gonna work on stage, in less-than-ideal sonic conditions, playing through beer-raped monitors with no soundcheck. That's where a lot of the old-school vibe comes from — not a conscious mimicking of the Noise and Combat catalog circa 1985, but a lean, focused songwriting approach that lays on the metal with maximum kill efficiency, and not a second or note wasted. This is primal, from-the-gut stuff, and it does a lot of damage in its thirty-five minute gallop across the wasteland. If I had a complaint, it'd be that the songs on "Breathing the Fire" seem a little less memorable than SKELETONWITCH has bestowed upon us in the past — too much of the record goes by without really grabbing the listener, placing all the classic metal elements on the table without really knocking any of it out of the park. It's a good record, but perhaps a step down from 2007's "Beyond the Permafrost" — hopefully a minor hiccup in what will be a storied career, and not the inevitable result of too much time away from the rehearsal room at home. A 7.5 when you're three beers in and feeling less picky, a 6 on those days when everything starts to sound the same.
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