Skeletonwitch – Devouring Radiant Light (2018) REVIEW

The lingering aftertaste of a public and non-communicative divorce more often than not manifests as slow personal resolve within mildly persistent disthymia. At an impasse with vocalist, and literal brother, Chance Garnette melodic death/thrash metal band Skeletonwitch made some unanimous decision to abandon and fire him without confrontation. The alcoholic who offers unwitting abuse to a family, in this case a band, surely represents a great weight lifted in absence yet brings a new set of personal conflicts with all parties in recovery. This wildly popular Athens, Ohio based blackened thrash band aren’t jumping back into the ‘party’ on their sixth full-length ‘Devouring Radiant Light’ and more importantly they’ve taken advantage of collective strife and new collaboration to bring about much needed change. From my perspective the most important inquiry to consider is perhaps whether or not Skeletonwitch‘s songwriters have developed their craft enough to handle a serious, dramatic work with believably emotive affect.

If the listener were to limit themselves to the bar-raising, ambitious melodic black/death metal opener “Fen of Shadows” and proceed to sit and dream up their own thoughts on the rest of the album you would be left with worthlessly optimistic musings. That isn’t to say that ‘Devouring Radiant Light’ can’t or doesn’t live up to it’s opening moments but there is some great danger in leading with your “Blackened” moment and not having a “One” to keep the ball rolling. Skeletonwitch built their sound on short cannon blasts of melodeath influenced thrash that was always on the verge of coming across as a ‘people pleasing’ melting pot of extreme metal. They could hang on every kind of bill be it Municipal Waste, At The Gates, or Darkthrone headlining and now it seems they’re falling off of that fence and picking sides more than on past releases. And while it was a safe bet to lean towards melodic black/death metal at one point, there is some sense of boldness in moving fully away from the cartoonish (relatively speaking) blackened melodeath/party thrash of their past.

Long indoctrinated and devout melodic black metal fans will find ‘Devouring Radiant Light’ a palatable melodic death leaning approximation of their beloved style that has more in common with In Flames ‘The Jester Race’ than releases from groups like The Moaning, Unanimated or A Canorous Quintet. The intricacies and clever jibs spread across Skeletonwitch‘s long history take a backseat to slow, unconvincingly dramatic filler in the form of melodic black/death metal well-informed by current ‘atmospheric’ extreme metal guitar techniques. It is both bridled and pleasantly precise but doesn’t achieve the ambitious emotive qualities of the sub-genre’s most notable entries. To put it in blunt terms, the guitar work is largely forgettable outside of a trio of key tracks: “Fen of Shadows”, the oddly Kvelertak-esque blackened thrash n’ roll of “The Luminous Sky”, and the beautiful melodic black metal finale of “Sacred Soil”. These songs will likely carry some interest, and I suppose if the first three tracks are already your jam this could prove more of a winner for you.

I found the album to be a confused stepping stone where they’ve put their best face forward but haven’t quite nailed the details. Like a brand new pillow subject to my nightly clutching and drool, ‘Devouring Radiant Light’ quickly ended up in-and-out of regular rotation due to it’s moderately adequate filler. None of this is the fault of the performers and really boils down to awkward modernization of melodic black metal clashing with a slowly dying interest in Skeletonwitch‘s signature melodic death/thrash style. How much does it matter that it isn’t an old school melodic black metal album? It truly doesn’t, but I’m not sure the songwriting is consistent enough to praise. New blood and collaboration serves to prop up it’s entirety, holes and all.

If I were vocalist Adam Clemens I’d be pretty proud of the resume he’s amassed within modern black and death metal gigs thus far as each of the three 2018 releases he’s performed on (Noose Rot, Wolvhammer) show great versatility and eclectic taste. Clemens‘ voice fits quite well into the band’s old and new sound (as evidenced by ‘The Apothic Gloom’ (2016) EP) and could just as easily fill in on reunions for barely alive bands like Dawn and Sacrilege. This album is so spectacularly staffed that it’s polished and careful tuning actually raises it’s value for idiots like me who are as obsessed with dynamic range as they are with guitar-forward mixing. From the distinct and gorgeous flow of the Stefan Thanneur‘s (Chaos Echœs) artwork to the current-but-old school production (Kurt Ballou), mixing (Fredrik Nordstrom), and bright master (Brad Boatright) ‘Devouring Radiant Light’ is surely hoisted by it’s reputable, experienced handlers.

For what it’s worth I gave Skeletonwitch a longer period of consideration than most records I come across because I am a fan of ‘Breathing the Fire’ (2009), and ‘Forever Abomination’ (2011) and have always been impressed with their live performances. Likewise I am eternally enamored with melodic black metal so, to glean some clarity and objectivity I picked up and put down this record many times over the last two months. The same three aforementioned songs along with the title track still hold some worth and resonance with me but as a whole the full-listen is light on the hooks and energetics that I both expect from Skeletonwitch and modern melodic black metal. “The Vault” represents the most drab and manufactured drama on the album, a sole low point for my taste. There is some balance and forgiveness that comes with it’s considerable superficial beauty but looking to both their past and the future ‘Devouring Radiant Light’ is a praiseworthy point of transition and less a modern classic.

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Artist Skeletonwitch
Type Album
Released July 20, 2018
BUY/LISTEN on Prosthetic Records’ Bandcamp! Follow Skeletonwitch on Facebook
Genre Melodic Black/Thrash Metal

Bow before thy rotting filth. 3.75/5.0

 

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