Skeletonwitch frontman Chance Garnette insists he’s not a morbid person.
“I’m not the dark, brooding type where I sit at home alone and think about harming myself,” he said in a recent phone interview. “No one is like, ‘Chance is so far into this evil shit that you can’t even be around him. He’s no fun, man.’”
At the same time, the long-running crew’s latest album, Serpents Unleashed, is among the darkest in its ever-expanding catalog, slithering from metallic burners like “This Evil Embrace,” which opens amid a flurry of riffs that fall as sharply and severely as guillotine blades, to comparatively primal numbers like “Beneath Dead Leaves,” where Garnette growls and hisses alongside a wild, flailing herd of drums, bass and guitar.
The lyrics are equally bleak. “Beneath Dead Leaves,” for one, advocates for an individual’s right to die by the means of his or her choosing.
“It’s about not becoming a burden and not being that old person that has no dignity and is sitting around with rotting limbs getting their ass wiped. It’s about knowing that’s your fate and going out on top, so to speak,” said Garnette, who was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, to a homemaker mother and father who specialized in underwater construction following a stint as a deep sea diver for the Navy during the Vietnam War. “My plan would be to go out into the woods, lie down, cut it open, bleed out and go back into the earth in a very natural way as opposed to dying alone in some nursing home. I couldn’t end up as someone’s chore. That would be super sad and super brutal for me.”
Growing up the frontman gravitated toward the occult simply because he found it more interesting — a point he illustrated by quoting “Spaceballs” (“Evil will always triumph because good is dumb,” he said). It’s an obsession that spilled over into even his most ordinary, everyday pursuits. When he lined up for his high school soccer team, for example, he wore a jersey emblazoned with the word DEATH rather than his last name, and he settled on the number 66 only because 666 wasn’t available.
In general, Garnette’s parents accepted his shadowy fascinations, though his father was taken aback when he finally took the time to study the album artwork for Slayer’s Reign in Blood.
“He was just like, ‘Boy, I don’t know,’” Garnette said, adopting a voice reminiscent of “King of the Hill” patriarch Hank Hill. “But it’s not like he made me live outside.”
Not that the singer would have minded this punishment; some of his fondest memories from the band’s time in Athens — the group formed in the college town in 2003 and Garnette lived there sporadically throughout his 20s before settling full-time near Columbus — involved the countless hours he spent outdoors hiking and mountain biking the trails around the Ridges, an abandoned mental hospital that first opened in 1868 and long served as a point of mystery (and mischief) for many an Ohio University student.
“I would go hiking back in there among these hundreds of unmarked graves,” he said. “And I’d spend time taking creepy pictures and just hanging out. Were there weird spirits I could feel? I guess there weren’t.”
The same can’t be said of Skeletonwitch’s music, which often comes on like the soundtrack to some looming apocalypse. My advice? Don’t fight it. Better to simply crank the volume and listen in as the metal crew celebrates the End of Days.