(Here’s Andy Synn’s review of the new album by Skeletonwitch, which will arrive on Friday of this week via Prosthetic Records.)
By this point, with the album’s release but a few scant days away, you’ll likely have seen and read a number of different reviews and opinion pieces about the new Skeletonwitch, some of it positive, some of it negative, some of it… a little hard to follow.
But if all that confusing, back and forth coverage has got you turned upside down, to the point where you just don’t know what to think, then fear not! I’ve got you covered with what promises to be the definitive take on the album.
First and foremost, let me point out something which I feel has been missed by a lot of reviewers… Devouring Radiant Light finds the Skeletonwitch crew sounding a lot like early-2000s period Enslaved.
It’s not just down to the Kjellson-esque vocals of Adam Clemans either. The whole album, with its longer, more intricate songs, increasingly blackened vibes, and greater use of proggy melody, is just so redolent of their Norwegian forebears that I’m honestly surprised it hasn’t been mentioned more frequently elsewhere.
The bleak, moody melodies, winding bass-lines, and icy, snarling vocals of opener “Fen of Shadows”, for example, would fit in almost seamlessly on an album like Monumension or Below the Lights, while the free-flowing gallop of “Temple of the Sun” (complete with some soaring, Ice Dale-ish lead guitar work and an unexpected splash of surprisingly effective clean vocals) and the sombre introspection of the title-track could just as easily find themselves a comfortable home on Isa or Ruun with a few minor cosmetic tweaks.
It’s not a complete transformation, of course, as there’s more than a fair bit of the classic ‘witch sound still present on tracks like “When Paradise Fades” and “The Luminous Sky”, which bring back a bit more thrashy bite and rock ‘n’ roll swagger into the mix, but, for the most part, Devouring Radiant Light is a much more ambitious album than its predecessors – songwriting-wise at least – and one which sounds very much like the band are in the midst of their own personal renaissance.
But therein lies the rub. As good as this album is (and when it’s firing on all cylinders, such as on the shamelessly epic “The Vault”, it really is a killer piece of high-quality Heavy Metal), it also still feels like the product of a band still in transition, and the widening divide between the proggier, more blackened style of tracks like the aforementioned “Temple of the Sun” or climactic closer “Sacred Soil”, and the more straightforward, stripped-back approach of songs such as “Carnarium Eternal”, only becomes more noticeable (and potentially more divisive) with every listen.
In the final reckoning, however, it’s hard not to see Devouring Radiant Light as something of a rough, slightly unrefined, gem of an album, one which – despite its flaws – is not only extremely enjoyable in its own right, but which also opens up new paths for the band to explore in the future.
Yet it also raises a difficult question for the band going forwards – how much of their old sound, and how many of their old fans, are they willing to sacrifice in pursuit of new creative and artistic avenues? I suppose only time will tell.
Let’s put it this way: The old Skeletonwitch produced a lot of good-but-not-great records. So by any means, keep experimenting. While DVR is neither flawless nor super original, it has a lot of genuinely thought-out and catchy moments which make this record an unexpected feel-good record of the summer for me. My advice to the listener to approaching DVR would be to put your reviewer brain on pause and forget about trying to categorize this band and just let yourself be swept along by those killer melodic hooks in Fen of Shadows, Temple of the Sun or the title track. And if that’s not working for you, well, there’s plenty more fish in the sea.
Such a sensible comment. I agree their earlier outputs are short and sweet, but never really the main course. In this album though, these dudes surely aimed for a more ambitious menu.
DAT COVER ART IS SYKK
Absolutely loving the more pronounced Black Metal vibe in these new tunes and great vocal sounds!! Strongest album to date for these ears with out a doubt.
They didn’t need to fix what wasn’t broken. Everything before had an interesting and fun take on combining influences that gave them their own identity. This feels like any one out of dozens of “atmospheric” black/death albums which is fine if one prefers that style (I happen to find it utterly boring,) but they’re losing a lot of what’s made them unique.
I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt that it’s very much a transitional album, but to what that is down the road I don’t know. The best I, and I think at few other fans, can hope for is that this is just a one-off to get out of their systems.
I’m glad I got to see Skeletonwitch perform with Garnette, because it was a very memorable show. But as far as their studio work is concerned, this is by far my favorite. Great vocals and the songs are intense, powerful and dark. Killer stuff 🙂
I love this band, and have always enjoyed their work. I am from the same home town, and actually heard their debut before it was released (although the band was not happy about my co-worker getting a burned copy from his friend, who was their first drummer). I bought the first album, which was only locally released, in the dark basement that was Haffa’s Records at that point, too. I have seen them multiple times with Chance, and multiple times with Adam. I am not saying this to brag, but only to preface my opinion on the record. Suffice it to say, I love all of their material. I may end up loving this album the most, as it is the one I had always wished they would make. I like Adam more as a frontman, and as a person. He nails Chance’s vocals live, and his lyrics are far more intelligent and mature. Adam’s vocals on this album are even better than I expected, and the arrangements are stellar. I’ll shut up and stop fanboying now.