Skeletonwitch, Iron Reagan and Oathbreaker Live at St. Vitus
It feels good to see Skeletonwitch headlining. Their growth from an underground four-piece black/thrash outfit to the popular genre amalgamation they've become has been enjoyable to listen to, and especially watch on stage. The Ohio outfit sold out Brooklyn’s St. Vitus back to back two nights in a row, bringing a diverse array of crowd-pleasing acts as support.
Oathbreaker, hot on the heels of breakthrough third album Rheia, were outliers on this tour's lineup. Singer Caro Tanghe - long dark hair draped over her face for the duration, looking not unlike Samara (or Sayoko) from ‘The Ring’ - is a revelation of control, delivering gentle vocals and tortured wails with equal aplomb. The rest of the band is airtight, not a single note out of place. That's even more impressive given how many of the songs turn on a hairpin, or go from full-on black metal rage to almost silence in seconds. Their current popularity is well-deserved.
Iron Reagan, had the best - or at least most entertaining - set of the night. No, they aren't just another version of Municipal Waste; they might have the same singer and goofy sense of humor, but they also incorporate more crust and street punk influence, giving the songs a sharper edge. After the worst stand-up routine of all time, courtesy of Count Dracula (dressed like British bourgeoisie, for some reason) Tony Forresta and company ripped into jam after jam of pure circle pit joy, with some brave soul in a full t-rex costume joining the fray at one point. A cover of Cannibal Corpse's "Skull Full Of Maggots" was icing on the cake.
Skeletonwitch has been on tour for a good chunk of 2016, which has to be the best way to break in a new guy, Wolvhammer vocalist Adam Clemans. Changing up singers is always a dicey proposition, doubly so when replacing a frontman as charismatic and ferocious as original vocalist Chance Garnette. Clemans definitely has the range for their songs, from rasping black to barking death. At St. Vitus, he paced the stage and gave audience members the evil eye, emphatic and committed to the delivery, but something intangible was still missing. Garnette possessed an aura that was just unhinged enough to make his presence resonate that Clemans did not reproduce. In no way does that make him a bad vocalist - The Apothic Gloom is a great EP, and his voice is an excellent match for the band's current sound - but it will never be the same band.
The setlist borrowed evenly from releases spanning Skeletonwitch's discography, showcasing Clemans' ability to make fan-favorite songs his own. That's what fans should be doing - accepting the band's new singer and acknowledging his great talent. A quick look at metal history will provide enough examples of replacement singers faring much, much worse.
Pics by Chris Rowella