Review Summary: Masterfully closes Skeletonwitch’s well-loved blackened thrash period while simultaneously opening up new sonic territories to explore in this and future releases.
Very few metal albums have had me awaiting for their arrival this year with as much enthusiasm and high expectations as Skeletonwitch’s Devouring Radiant Light
. Compared to other young bands that were part of the early/mid-2000s retro thrash wave, Skeletonwitch has been one of the few modern thrash groups that has known how to adapt with the times and go beyond the first two or three studio albums (a very common problem among thrash revival bands). Although their influences and their love for old school metal is palpable and perceptible in their sound, Skeletonwitch’s instrumentation and songwriting leans towards a too dead serious, dark and clean approach to be categorized on the same ''pizza thrash/retro-thrash'' labels as their peers.
Skeletonwitch’s sound is violent, vicious but always highly tuneful, featuring a great variety of influences, styles and eras of metal for a different brand of thrash (notably the inclusion of melodic hooks, energetic riffs and dazzling guitar harmonies that bring to mind traditional heavy metal and the Gothenburg scene). In general, each album from 2007’s Beyond the Permafrost
through 2013’s Serpents Unleashed
more or less carried the same relentless and visceral sound throughout. However, while the band’s formula proved to be a success and contributed to a fairly enjoyable and consistent discography, some began to wonder if Skeletonwitch was capable of anything more than their usual melodic blackened thrash sound. Thankfully the band decided to switch things up a little with this year’s Devouring Radiant Light
Skeletonwitch’s new direction will probably not please everyone, with the band’s fan base already split into two groups. One group, consisting of old followers and newcomers, is going to support the direction Skeletonwitch is going in alongside new vocalist Adam Clemans (Wolvhammer
, Veil of Maya
), and accompanied by Converge
’s guitarist Kurt Ballou in production. The other group mostly consists of older fans, who might either take a while to completely digest the change or criticize the new material due to its notorious differences with the band’s usual three-minute thrash bangers, when Chance Garnette was the vocalist. Regardless of what you think about the band, one thing became clear since the album artwork and the lead single ''Fen of Shadows'' were revealed; Devouring Radiant Light
marks a new chapter in Skeletonwitch’s history, a chapter that introduces us to a cold, mystical, mature and different band. If anything, Skeletonwitch’s sixth full-length depicts a looming and feral sense of obscurity with an emphasis on somber atmospheres, more involved songs and a greater dissonance and rawness compared to their previous works.
Instrumentally Skeletonwitch are still on top form as musicians, with stellar guitar duo Nate Garnette and Scott Hedrick still being the main standout features of the band’s sound. A dissonant and huge wall of guitars emanates throughout the album, with plenty of crunchy, rocking riffs during the shorter numbers as well as moments of respite and calm with slow and tasteful passages. The dense drumming patterns are faster than previously while Clemans’ forceful, throat-ripping guttural vocals provide a rougher, black metallish rasp to the band’s sound. The best moments of Devouring Radiant Light
however come in the high level of songwriting, the band’s newfound ability to create longer compositions and their desire to refresh their sound and venture outside their comfort zone at this point in their career.
The variety of passages and ideas in each song prevents the album from blending together stylistically. There are occasions on here where the music acquires an imposing, hellish and thunderous atmosphere thanks to the band’s atonal, infectious performances (the unrelenting, insanely cruel main hook on ''Carnarium Eternal,'' the explosive and stormy introduction to ''Sacred Soil''), moments for cold and fresh melodies and majestic, stylish passages like on the 2:38 mark of the closer ''Sacred Soil,'' the grandiose introduction of ''Fen of Shadows'' or the hypnotizing guitars at the end of ''When Paradise Fades.'' Skeletonwitch’s energy thrives in songs such as ''The Luminous Sky'' (which hearkens back to the Forever Abomination
days) and ''When Paradise Fades,'' which offer fun, headbanging moments to the listener with series of hard-hitting, tighter riffs, while ''Temple of the Sun'' benefits from an icy, adventurous and blazing atmosphere thanks to a notorious bass presence, Clemans’ incessant and wild vocal delivery that matches the intensity of the song and the inclusion of epic-sounding clean-sung vocal harmonies near the end.
The shorter, unbridled numbers masterfully make it clear that the old ‘witch sound hasn’t disappeared yet, but it’s on the album’s strongest, most extensive compositions what truly sets Devouring Radiant Light
apart from previous Skeletonwitch releases. Whether it be the multiple passages in the stunning opener ''Fen of Shadows'' (a great combination of chaos and beauty) or the bleak, lengthy introduction to the nine-minute stomping monster ''The Vault,'' it’s clear that Skeletonwitch aren’t afraid to accentuate their blackened influences and flirt with unfamiliar elements. The title track manages to stand out as another example of the band maturing as songwriters; an ethereal, slow introduction followed by colossal, mid-paced verses, only to be interspersed between fierier, crushing and terrific passages with an outstanding vocal work, ranging from intense shrieks to intimidating, possessed growls. That may seem a bit samey and repetitive, especially for a six-and-a-half-minute juggernaut, but Skeletonwitch make each section engaging, powerful and memorable enough, as well as avoid overloading the song with endless instrumental jams or impenetrable nonsense.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the band gets new fans thanks to this album. The band’s ability to remain as an interesting metal phenomenon in recent years is impressive, and all the new elements and high quality that surrounds Devouring Radiant Light
should make Skeletonwitch’s music very attractive for fans of extreme metal who are not into modern thrash metal per se. There’s no doubt that Ohio’s extreme metallers have come up with a different and remarkable effort, and the dedication, confidence and evolution shown by the band are enough reasons to make Devouring Radiant Light
a release that shouldn’t be precipitately ignored this year.