Even the album artwork of Skeletonwitch’s latest release ‘Devouring Radiant Light’ indicates that something has shifted. The band eschew their iconic logo for a single dark image, and this and a haunting and frostbitten piece that is a far cry from their previous Metallica T-shirt-esque artwork. This move, bold in itself, highlights a shift in the band’s sound from Blackened Thrash, at times with an emphasis on the Thrash, to a much purer expression of melodic Black Metal. It has to be said from the outset, this has been a hugely successful transition resulting in an absolutely spellbinding album.
Fen of Shadows opens with haunting, somewhat mournful chords in accordance with the dark, Black Metal-style album art. When Nate Garnette and Scott Hedrick’s riffs kick in, they are heavy and exultant alongside the pounding drums. The track is full-throttle, but tinged with anxiety and urgency. This atmosphere rises into fast drums and Adam Clemans’ harsh, frosted vocals. The influence of atmospheric Black Metal is immediately clear, while Garnette and Hedrick’s riffs speak to Skeletonwitch’s roots in Thrash Metal, but also take a lot from the Death Metal space. When the guitars drop into a softer section it is wonderfully melancholic, and a little reminiscent of Opeth. This is quickly backed by crushing riffs once again, while the weeping lead remains with a nice bass groove underneath courtesy of Evan Linger.
The heavy, riffing opening of When Paradise Fades immediately gives the sense Skeletonwitch are kicking into a higher gear with this track. The drums build the sense of anticipation before the guitars launch into a furious assault, while overall the band still pursue a melodic Black Metal sound. When Paradise Fades is an intense track that demands headbanging, though the lead guitar is a ray of light in the wall of heaviness, injecting a welcome sense of pathos.
Things get even faster and harsher with the heavy and dramatic Temple of the Sun. The riffs here have quite a Cradle of Filth feel to them, and Linger provides an excellent bass drop. Deeper in the track picks up the impenetrable density of some Black Metal, but in the relatively cleaner sections, it takes on a more empowering, almost uplifting aspect. As in the previous track, the lead guitars continue to shine with the perfect injection of beauty.
Devouring Radiant Light starts out with a downbeat, almost ‘Watershed’ style opening. The track meanders through slow contemplation until Linger’s mighty bass rumble moves the track along, rather than a big riff straight away. The drums stick to the slow movements until the riffs do kick off, and even then the title track remains a slower number that continues to feel very Opeth, even in Clemans’ approach to his growls. There are plenty of high-octane riffs in this track, but they also continue to retain high emotional power.
By contrast, The Luminous Sky kicks way back up to climactic drums and powerful, headbanging riffs. In this track, the roughest on the album but no less enjoyable for that, the Thrash influence is surfaced in the break-neck guitar work. At the same time, the track continues to draws in the exultance of melodic Black Metal without losing any of its Thrash fury.
Another contrast hits with the low and mournful The Vault. This track takes its time in its quiet space before heavy, dirge-like riffs take over. The Vault is big and emotive, laden with wretched despair. The drums launch into a rousing Black Metal call to arms, while there are some nice Death Metal touches to the crunchy riffs. Overall The Vault weaves a beautiful trajectory between melodic Black and Death Metal, with a brilliant guitar solo supported by melodic but chunky riffs.
The shorter Carnarium Eternal immediately kicks into full-throttle heaviness with very fast riffs and drums, and declaratory vocals. The track drops deeper and darker without losing any of its pace, and there’s plenty of great bass support from Linger.
Sacred Soil opens with very Black, unsettling guitar tones that are soon accompanied by rapid, powerful drums as the riffs transition to fast, melodic Black Metal with some very Cradle of Filth tones again. There is an absolutely beautiful guitar break towards the end of the track, with a sense of triumph almost achieved before the riffs descend into final mournfulness and despair.
With the dramatic transition to a much more mature sound, Skeletonwitch’s ‘Devouring Radiant Light’ is one of the most surprising dark horses of 2018 so far. A more than welcome addition to the band’s discography, it’s sure to be acknowledged as a powerful turning point for the rest of their career.
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