Metal band loses a singer but finds itself with 'Devouring Radiant Light'

In October 2014, Skeletonwitch arrived for a local show at the Newport absent singer Chance Garnette, who the long-running metal band left behind in Massachusetts following his arrest on assault and battery charges. Rather than canceling, the band finished its tour with Amon Amarth absent the singer, playing entirely instrumental sets.

“It's crazy now to think that we actually did that,” said guitarist Scott Hedrick, who joins his Skeletonwitch bandmates, including new singer Adam Clemans, for a show at Ace of Cups on Monday, June 3. “At that point, I think we were just compartmentalizing and focusing on the task at hand: ‘Let's just do this show, and these shows.' … Then we could get back home and worry about the future.”

While Skeletonwitch came close to calling it quits in the aftermath of the arrest, details of which have been kept private, the remaining members, including Chance's brother, Nate, eventually decided to carry onward, releasing Devouring Radiant Light (Prosthetic Records) in 2018.

With Nate rightfully distracted, Hedrick took on a greater role in crafting the new songs, which find the band drifting further afield from the pulverizing medieval warfare of previous albums, incorporating more atmospheric passages and unique time signatures, as well as lyrics that suggest something long-absent in the group's blood-spattered output: hope.

The title track, for one, opens with Clemans trapped in “the darkest corners of the mind,” before the frontman gradually feels his way free of the sunless abyss. “Never again will we live in gray haze,” he sings.

This steady emergence mirrors the creative renaissance Hedrick felt working on Devouring Radiant Light. The guitarist said that in prior years Chance's domineering personality sometimes left him questioning his worth as a musician, since any ideas he brought to the band tended to be summarily dismissed by the former singer with a similar qualifier: That doesn't sound like Skeletonwitch.

“Everything across the board was changing, and for me this record reflects that,” said Hedrick, who ended a seven-year relationship, took up distance running and moved from Athens, Ohio, first to New York and later to Los Angeles, where he currently lives. “I went from really doubting my abilities to taking creative charge in the band. I asserted myself as a guitar player and a songwriter, and kind of found a backbone, like, ‘No. This is good. We should use this. My ideas are valid.' And I'm glad I did, because I think it resulted in a much different, much more nuanced Skeletonwitch than we had before.”

It's also helped Hedrick rediscover his joy in being a musician, which had started to wane in the time leading to the 2014 implosion.

“Prior to us kicking Chance out … I wasn't creatively happy, and I wasn't having fun,” said the guitarist, who absorbed everything from free jazz to film score composers while working on album tracks, embracing a newfound freedom that he anticipates will carry into future recordings. “The worst thing I ever see is a band that you can tell is miserable, where they're just doing what they're expected to do because they can make some money on it. … Now we have a solid lineup, and our creative relationships are good. We're much more lean and ready to go.”