Skeletonwitch's name is known fairly well among the metal community. The band won a lot of new fans over with their sophomore record and Prosthetic Records debut, Beyond the Permafrost. Their combination of thrash and black metal was fairly different compared to what most neo-thrash bands were doing at the time. Now that a couple years have passed, there have been a couple other "blackened thrash" bands that have been getting bigger (Toxic Holocaust, Absu) during that time. Despite this, Skeletonwitch have a pretty distinct sound and are easy to tell apart from other bands of their genre, so don't expect them to make any drastic changes on their latest record, Breathing the Fire.
Breathing the Fire isn't really a progression or maturation from it's predecessor, but more of an improvement in some areas. Skeletonwitch have taken the stronger elements from Beyond the Permafrost and made them better. Chance Garnett's vicious death grunts and high-pitched shrieks are one thing that's improved a bit. He transitions between the two vocal styles a lot throughout the whole record and they sound a lot stronger, especially his black metal style shrieks. The riffs and melodies from guitarists Nate Garnett and Scott Hedrick also sound a lot more straight-up thrash-influenced than they did on Beyond the Permafrost. Not to say this is a bad thing since the more simpler sound helps make Breathing the Fire a bit more accessible. Beyond the Permafrost sounded sloppy on some tracks where the band attempted to incorporate too much into a three-minute song.
The main difference between Breathing the Fire and Beyond the Permafrost is how the two albums are structured. While Beyond the Permafrost had a lot of chaos and insanity packed into every track, Breathing the Fire starts off on a more tame note and works its way up as the album progresses. The album's opener "Submit to the Suffering" is a more straight-up thrash track that just sets the pace for the rest of the album. Things do pick up right on the next track, "Longing for Domination" which showcases the band's improvement in songwriting (structure-wise) and in the riff department. Songs like "Stand Fight and Die" and "Gorge Upon My Soul" show the band at their best. The former being powered by some fantastic tremolo riffing during the bridge and the outro and the latter showing the band's more technical side. Two other stand outs are "The Despoiler of Human Life" which will likely be remembered for it's chants of "Die, die, die" in the bridge and "Crushed Beyond Dust" which shows Chance Barnett's best performance vocally in the verses.
All of the improvements in structure and musicianship aside, when you listen to Breathing the Fire from front to back, it doesn't sound too different from Beyond the Permafrost. The only real sense of progression comes on the soft outro of "Repulsive Salvation" and "...And into the Flame" where drummer Derrick Nau showcases his talents magnificently in the intro. In the end, Skeletonwitch are just sticking to their usual sound while tweaking a few things to improve them, and they worked. Breathing the Fire may not be as dynamic as some metal albums released this year, but it's a fun listen and an overall solid album with a lot of replay value.