I once saw a guy punch a horse in its face. That was in Athens, Ohio. Skeletonwitch, which hails from that southeastern Ohio town, hasn’t been connected with such sordid behavior, but its music deals with metal mainstays like death, ritual and rage. Justifying the actorly pursuit of playing in a metal band at this late date has to be more difficult than most folks realize, though. Even if a band’s not engaged with corpse paint, ensembles like this quintet are likely to be brushed aside as kitsch by mainstream media. It’s not a totally unwarranted position for the medium to find itself in. Black-clad bands genuflecting?
Getting as much of Rob Halford’s Judas Priest into its metal as possible while still referencing the minutiae separating sub-genre minefields, Skeletonwitch has become one of the underground’s busiest proponents, road-dogging more frequently than recording. Approaching band life in such a fashion, though, has granted these college-town dwellers a taut and precise take on music frequently finding itself bogged down by ludicrous excess. “Breathing the Fire,” the title track from the group’s 2009 album, gets a bit into soloing for the sake of soloing, but still clocks in under four minutes. It’s not a pop song—Chance Garnette’s hearty howl refutes widespread popularity, but with a pair of dueling guitars, everybody wins.
“Baptized in Flames,” from the bands 2007 “Beyond the Permafrost,” arrived sounding like a dirgey pop-punk track at times, but tougher and full of a completely different sort of ridiculous lyric. Chugging along towards what counts as a recording highlight, the song assimilates black metal’s theatric, gruffly croaked singing and a bit of southern sludge and hardcore. Skeletonwitch might be more serious than Mastodon, but its fan base demands it. (Dave Cantor)
April 9 at the Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600, 10pm. $10.