Dead Neanderthals and Scott Hedrick’s Haunting “Ghosts”
With last year's release Devouring Radiant Light, Skeletonwitch abandoned their brand of scorched death-thrash metal, their bread and butter throughout five albums over a decade, in favor of ambitious black metal atmosphere. It was a risky move that was brought on by the musical growth of guitarist Scott Hedrick.
In our interview with the guitarist, he explains, “In the last couple years I’ve really gotten into all kinds of crazy free jazz music, and lots of ambient, world music and stuff. It’s not like our record’s going to sound like any of those things directly, but there are elements creeping in from my love of Brian Eno, my love of Pharoah Sanders or Don Cherry where I come up with ideas that are pretty wacky when jamming.”
The new direction alienated some longtime supporters, but also gained Skeletonwitch newfound respect from others. This did not only include a litany of metal music critics falling over themselves to praise the disc, but also René Aquarius, drummer for avant-garde "New Wave of Dutch Heavy Jazz" duo Dead Neanderthals.
“I knew [Skeletonwitch] for some time, but never really got into them,” he admitted via email from his home in the Netherlands. “That definitely changed when I heard Devouring Radiant Light. It's an excellent record and really the band's best album in my opinion.”
Hedrick had already been a fan of Dead Neanderthals for some time. “My brother recommended Dead Neanderthals to me about 4 years ago,” he said, also via email. “I loved them immediately! At that point I was listening to a lot of noisy/free jazz and krautrock, so the timing was perfect. I responded to it immediately.”
The guitarist was surprised to find out that the feeling was mutual through social media.
“Rene posted about Devouring Radiant Light from the Dead Neanderthals socials and I was shocked,” Hedrick gushed. The Twitter exchangewhen they first met is hilarious (the guitarist said he was a huge fan of their work to which Aquarius responded “YOU GOTTA BE SHITTING ME!”).
“Fortuitously, Skeletonwitch had some European dates already on the books so I asked them if there was any way we could meet in person.”
They met in person, but by then they had already discussed working together. This was not out of line for Dead Neanderthals who have been extremely prolific and always willing to experiment with other musicians, including some who are metal-adjacent.
“We have been collaborating with people who operate within or adjacent to the metal scene such as Vincent Koreman (of Nihill), Sten Ove Toft (of Altaar) and Thomas Ekelund (otherwise known as Trepaneringsritualen), however the outcome was never very metal. Maybe because that wasn't the sound we were pursuing or maybe it was our bad influence, haha!”
Saxophonist Otto Kokke elaborated that “[c]ollaborations are maybe a bit more natural in the improv scene, which is also more focused on individual musicians that operate in more fluid combinations. Whereas in metal it's more like ‘hey I like your band.’”
“Admittedly I was a bit nervous,’ Hedrick said, “but I've been making a concerted effort to move outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself. Besides, I'm just a huge fan of these guys; it would be crazy not to work with them! Fortunately they made the first move and sent me tracks with a sax and drums and I reacted to the foundations they laid down.”
“Otto and I recorded two ideas and sent rough mixes to Scott to work with,” recalled the drummer. “Scott worked on his ideas and sent rough mixes back to us. We sent kept on sending files back and forth until we all thought: This is it!”
The result is Ghosts, nearly forty minutes of doomy drone that sees Kokke’s bleating sax commingle with Hedrick’s soaring, wailing guitar; all the while Aquarius ties the cacophonous clatter together with a monotonous, trance-like intensity.
Utech Records previously previewed “Death Bell,” which is relatively delicate and nuanced, and Invisible Oranges is pleased to exclusively stream the second track from the album, “Bone Hill." The album’s first half is the more aggressive track of the two, with droning-and-distorting sax-and-strings that sound almost like electrified bagpipes, making for a powerfully hypnotic experience that is way more Sunn O))) than Sun Ra.
“[I’m] not sure what this sounds like exactly but I don't think it sounds like jazz,” said Kokke, while Aquarius added “I think it sounds like Dead Neanderthals, which is something I'm pretty proud of to be honest!”
“I agree with all of you,” replied Hedrick. “The presence of a saxophone does not make it jazz, just as the presence of a guitarist from a metal band does not make it metal.”
Ghosts releases Friday, September 13th. It can be pre-ordered on limited vinyl or as a digital download through Utech Records. When asked if there would be live performances, the band said they were “working on something but can't get into specifics yet.” Keep Invisible Oranges bookmarked for details as they are made available.