Skeletonwitch - Devouring Radiant Light - (9/10)
Published on July 20, 2018
Before we dive in and explore the new album, Devouring Radiant Light, by Skeletonwitch, I feel it appropriate at this juncture to give a little bit of background information. I’m a metal snob and through reflection I’ve discovered that in a lot of ways my attitude is the same as the older, old school metal snobs 25-30 years ago when I was first really diving in to the music. I don’t mean that I’m not some ridiculous elitist donkey who only listens to unsigned bands from Lithuania and wears a bullet-belt in my sleep. I stopped dying my hair black in 1999. To be clear, when I say I’ve become a metal snob, it’s because for the last 10-15 years I’ve built up my library from and primarily listen to older stuff. In this period, though, I haven’t really accepted very many new bands as I had in the 10 years before that when my stables were filled with epic heroes like Cliff Burton, Cronos, Steve Harris, Geezer Butler for bass players at least. The bands I’ve gotten into since jumping back into writing again are mostly lesser-known, admittedly, and that’s where I can bring Skeletonwitch back to the topic at hand. Thiers is a band that was always filed away for me to check out later, and unfortunately it is now at the point of their sixth album that I’m giving them a serious listen. If this album was from Skeletonwitch or from some unknown band from wherever, I would never be able to deny that this album is a quite brilliant album. I suppose I’ve already revealed my position of really getting into this album, but I’ll now proceed to tell you why, and yes, I’m writing primarily for the old school heads out there. If you like metal, there really isn’t any way you wouldn’t like this album.
I’ve really given this album a serious investigation having listened to it now at least a dozen or so times all the way through, and one of the songs that resonates throughout my thoughts is the first track, “Fen of Shadows.” a very haunting track with overt black metal influence. Through repetition the band is able to deeply drill into the listener’s subconscious to leave their token imprint. In many ways, there is a European feel, above and beyond the black metal and death metal, into a viably American package ready for mass metal consumption. That hook at the end of the main riff going into the chorus is splendidly ethereal.
The fifth track, “The Luminous Sky,” opens with what thus far has proven to be the band’s secret weapon, very well-formed and articulated chords. On top of the stellar picking and phrasing, the structures of the chords themselves paint a high-gloss coat over the songs. Skeletonwitch know how to write songs. Perhaps that is the biggest take away as well, where as a younger band would be focused primarily upon writing a festival of riffs with varying degrees of difficulty and rhythmic patterns, this band has found its niche and through it are writing some quality songs.
The final song that truly deserves a deeper study is the sixth track titled “The Vault,” which is just three seconds shy of nine minutes long. To not mention this song would be to commit a foul injustice to the metal community. It begins with some mournful sounding chords and a pace that could be likened to the more epic moments of Paradise Lost, specifically on “Icon,” in fact. After a long intro, three minutes in fact, when the song gets going, there is a greater deal of momentum. Some of the tremolo-picked parts are black metal in delivery only as they sound more positive with major or augmented chords, a different base entirely than most black metal or death metal. It is also gratifying to hear a well thought-out, if at all, really, guitar solo which encapsulates the main mood of the song, adds its counter-contribution, and all the while, avoids the wah pedal!
As admitted above, I’m a bass player at heart, and it is from that angle that I must first rave about the bass playing on the album. This album is of a kind mainly for bass players who really want to shake things up with both their rhythmic and melodic role within an extreme metal format. This is written with the normal delivery in terms of tone with absolutely no hint of slapping, tapping, or what not. Instead, what the album is for bass players is very precise attack rhythms as well as parts where there is simply a blank canvas for the bass clef. As a bass player, I can imagine a 55+ year old Cliff Burton jamming to or on this. Those are big words as my childhood can attest! Evan Linger holds his own and occasionally throws in some impressively lethal bass playing. His contribution not only solidifies the songs, but in many cases has a major role in the chord structure.
My ear wants to say their general EQ set-up is with the frown, to some extent at least. As for the guitar playing, is must first be mentioned that the album’s lead track, “Fen of Shadows” is the mini blueprint for the album as evidenced at 5:26 minutes in. The guitars deliver a brilliantly dynamic performance. Fans of everyone from Eyehategod to Manowar could get into this, as well as Emperor to Candlemass.
Throughout the album, band references in the back of my mind stayed legit with Carcass and Dissection playing doom or black metal as the best final assessment. While the band’s seemingly more black metal-focused approach to much of the material may be a side some fans had perhaps not actualized, but if one listens to the album as a whole, it is clear to see that the band simply try to express their love for their heroes, admirably and nothing but, the band expresses their moods with different genre leaps from thrash to death metal to black metal to doom, and perhaps even more. It’s an album prolific in the sense that the production allows for more finely-tuned articulation such as the way the pick sounds or the attack on a cymbal.
On the most recent spin, at this very moment in fact, (I do listen to the album for entertainment as well as a subject study), while listening to the title track, I was inspired by the collage in the yarn spun by melody, structure, and rhythm. I have gotten the feeling similar to when I first heard Blackwater Park listening to the epic sixth track on this album, “The Vault” where my aural energy waxed, “The Call of Ktulu” and waned its own gratuitous beauty. Ultimately, between the razor-sharp riffs and the mammoth chords to the epic luminous songwriting, genre-advancing bass playing, Skeletonwitch are a truly top-shelf band that I hate It’s been this long before I gave them a chance! It’s going to be hard to top this release this year.