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Devouring Radiant Light by Skeletonwitch

 

Damn. Not to start things off on a bad note, or anything, but this was a tough one for me. And by tough I mean I just could not shake my skepticism of the “new” Skeletonwitch. See, for me, Skeletonwitch would never be Skeletonwitch without their lead singer, Chance Garnette. I loved that dude (non sexually). Not just from a technical standpoint, but as a frontman and band leader, so to speak. Not saying he wasn’t an extremely talented and inspiring vocalist, he was. He could flaunt his style of vocals very well; the blackened thrash mixed with a little death growl for good measure. Far from the definitive voice on that, but you knew it was him. You knew it was SKELETONWITCH. It had signature style. Not to mention, his stage presence and the live experience of the “old” Skeletonwitch was just wonderful. It was funny and brutal at the same time, deadly energetic and infectious. All the members really had a great vibe together and the chemistry of that is what made Skeletonwitch so great to me, and they remain one of my all time favorite metal bands. So, as you could hopefully understand, when they had a falling out with my friend Chance, I kind of wrote the band off. They would never be Skeletonwitch to me ever again. Fresh off the best album they’ve put out, in my opinion, Serpents Unleashed; they band ditched Garnette (for one reason or another, although it seems to be justified, unfortunately) mid tour and quickly replaced him with Wolvhammer vocalist Adam Clemans. After a bout of silence from the ‘ol Witch, they released an EP with said new vocalist, and long story short - I hated it. To be fair, I didn’t give it a fair listen. In fact it took me a while to work up the courage to actually listen to any of it at all. But, when I did, all I got was rehashed material from the Serpent’s Unleashed sessions, with a slight attempt at a more “gloomy” black metal vibe, and less impressive vocals obviously due to Chance’s absence. Nothing against the NEW GUY whatsoever, that’s huge shoes to fill and he probably do the best he could, but I couldn’t get into it. I was sad. Honestly. We don’t have to talk about it. ANYWAY… when I heard of this record, Devouring Radiant Light gearing up for a release, I shut it out. Like a crazy ex-girl friend (trust me I’ve got 1 or 5), I didn’t even give it the time of day. All I needed to do was see the album art to know which direction they were trying to go in, as a continuation from the Apothic Gloom EP, they were clearly pushing to be a more traditional black metal band. And what made Skeletonwitch so special to me was that they were NOT a traditional black metal band. They were a bunch of dudes from Athens, Ohio who took inspirations from classic heavy metal, thrash, death, and black metal, and had fun crafting their own kind of tunes with that. They are NOT a bunch of evil and depressed wolf men from the realms of the permafrost mystical concocting tunes for the devil. STOP IT. As you well know, the American hipster black metal nonsense is probably my ultimate pet peeve right now, and I could not stand to see Skeletonwitch become that. At least change the name, for fuck’s sake! OK, NOW THAT THAT IS OUT OF THE WAY I CAN SAY THIS: I ended up setting all my apprehensions and negative thoughts aside (as any true good music fan or listener should) and gave this an honest listen, purely out of respect for the rest of the guys in the band that constructed some of my favorite extreme metal tunes of the last decade. That, and it was getting actually pretty stellar reviews… so, I was intrigued. Could they pull it off? They fucking could. I’ll say this now - I liked it. Quite a bit. Why? How? What? Im glad you asked…

    Now that I got that out of the way (and thank you for bearing with me, by the way), I was now ready to tear into this bad boy. ‘Ol Z was fully prepared to devour radiant light. As always, with respects to Method Man, BRING THE PAIN. But that doesn’t mean I was without my skepticism still. Seeing as the first track, Fen of Shadows was about 8 minutes long, and the good ‘ol Skeletonwitch tunes were about 2 minutes long, I was prepared for me to quite dislike it. But it seems like the Witch was a little ahead of me, because I quite liked it, actually. Immediately, I noticed the atmospheric vibe they were going for, and they pretty much nailed it on this one. It sounded quite organic, not forced or out of place in any way, color me pleasantly surprised. Atmosphere can make or break music very easily, ands this time, it made it. It could’ve easily felt forced or parroted from another band; it didn’t. This dark little tune is captivating to say the least; interestingly arranged and well orchestrated between the melodies and heavy metal thunder. Most importantly, the vocals aren’t distracting. They FIT. Which is what they didn’t do on their previous EP. Whatever they did, they figured it out. It may be because the vocals don’t cast a shadow on any parts in the mix, rather they are carried along with the music, making it an interestingly dark listening experience. That’s not to say there is no signature Skeletonwitch instrumental, there is. The only difference is that it is combined with other elements that are not forced or overpower it. The guitars blaze with a nice tone and although I wish we could hear the bass a tad more (i know, I KNOW.), Skeletonwitch 2018 has my undivided attention.

    All I can do is hope at this point that Fen of Shadows was a solid indicator of what to expect for the rest of the record, and the second track, When Paradise Fades, solidifies that. Wasting no time getting into the thrashing metal once again heavily reminiscent of my personal favorite Skeletonwitch record, Serpents Unleashed, only refined and darkened for the times. They’re either throwing in some old vibes for apprehensive fans like me, or they’ve always been the same kick-ass and whatever other body part you’d wish to be kicked band, and I should’ve gave them a better chance. More than likely the latter is true and now I’m feeling sorry. Yes, this song is so good it actually made me feel sorry. Good job, Skeletonwitch. Good FUCKING job. So, please pre-forgive the 6 year old geek inside me, BUT, if old Skeletonwitch was like Carnage… new Skeletonwitch is like Venom. I know. I’m sorry but bear with me. They’re the same menacing beast, just little more comfortable dwelling in the darkness. Becoming one with the black atmosphere enveloping them while not losing their signature sound yet still maintaining a refreshing level of inventiveness within their songwriting is nothing to be scoffed at. That is no easy feast. In fact, that is arguable more difficult to achieve than giving the band a completely new name and sound for this record, as I foolishly previously has suggested. Once again Skeletonwtich, good fucking job. Please continue with the positive yet grim vibes as we approach the Temple of the Sun. Spoiler alert: they do.

    Temple of the Sun of undoubtedly one of the stand out tracks of the record. Once again, it’s heavy and fast as shit, reminding me more of something off of Forever Abomination than anything else. Not to discredit it, it has its own vibe unique to this record, for sure. But, just for sake of comparison, we’ll go with that. I can finally pick up on a little taste of the bass groove here on this one, and it tastes delicious. The drums match it and the vocals… OK, he’s still no Chance… but, they’re great. My man is killing it on this one. The “chorus” of this sucker is basically chants that’ll rattle your skull all day long. Lined up with the always tight and ripping instrumental army of the Witch, this tune is a classic. And now we finally get to Devour some Radiant Light.

    Ah, the good ‘ol faithful title track. The title track is a very important track. It holds up the record, and it should live up to the records potential. It should be a good representation of the entire record while supplying life to it like some sort of weird blackened heart type mechanism. Some bands aren’t even brave enough to put title tracks on their albums, which is fine. But, Skeletonwitch you bet your ass is up to the task. And of course, they nail it. They nail it to a cross, turn it upside down and throw it into the fiery abyss. This song is the perfect representation of the 2018 reincarnation of the Witch. It’s everything from slow and grim to chugging and heavy to melodic and beautiful, but not in a pretentious way. The still somehow manage to capture the down-to-Earth Skeletonwtich vibe, too. There’s ups and downs as far as the tempos go in this one, keeping the listener engaged for once again an 8 minute song. It wont rip your face off with heaviness too much, but the haunting melody and grim vibe will lurk in the does of your mind, I have no doubt. 

    Expecting a similar dark and slower vibe based on the title for the next track, The Luminous Sky, I was pleasantly surprised when it kicked me in the ass and spat some death metal right in my face. Quite refreshing, oddly enough! This track is as if they need to say, in case you were worried, we still got it. Specifically at about 1:09 into this tune, it is the pure trash metal head insanity, and probably the best display of that since Serpents Unleashed. I think to myself, this might be my favorite track. But wait, I loved the title track, too. And oh, shit.. what about the opener? That was awesome too.. then, suddenly, I realize.. fuck. I like them all. If the second half of this record holds up to the first, then not only did I completely change my opinion on the “new” Witch. This might end up being in my top 5 of the year. And it very well might do that.As if they knew what I was thinking, they hit me with another impressive 9 minute doom and gloom fest that is The Vault. If you are on the fence about Skeletonwitch’s chops at doom metal, this is the song to listen to. 9 minutes never flew by so quick while on this journey with Skeletonwitch exploring some uncharted territory. By this point, my hipster black metal notions and worries are obliterated. In fact, I whole-heartedly welcome and look forward to Skeletonwitch trudging forth in this direction, rather than try to recreated what they had done with Chance in the past. This is a new era of the band, and I can’t wait to hear more of it. 

    The next song serves as a nice compliment to the 9 minute Vault, because Carnarium Eternal is a short menacing little bastard that allows them to strike some lightning down upon you one final time. But not just yet.. they’ll bury you below Sacred Soil first.

    The concluding track is a return to the 7 minute form, expect this time, its pretty heavy. As fuck, actually. With a nasty little distorted riff interlude haunting you straight to the cold dark Hell, this will deliver more punches, growls, and blast beats than you can stand by the end of this brilliantly arranged and composed record. Just as I didn’t let Skeletonwitch off the hook easy at the beginning, they don’t let me or anyone off the hook easy at the end. They have certainly earner their stripes among metal’s current best, and have proved themselves to be a refreshed and innovative band that’ll likely stick around for years to come. I must apologize directly to the band and new vocalist Adam Cleman’s for the hate at the beginning, as you can assure you I’ll be in the crowd anytime they're even close to Pittsburgh after hearing this record. They beyond establish themselves as incredible metal musicians and this record deserves to be heard with an unbiased approach. Here’s to the darkness, my friends. I loved this one.

Rock Rating: 4.5/5

Gym Rating: 3.5/5

Check 'em out:

https://www.facebook.com/skeletonwitch/

https://skeletonwitch.bandcamp.com