Review: Skeletonwitch – Devouring Radiant Light

I wanted to like Devouring Radiant Light. I don’t, but I wanted to. Post-Chance Garnette Skeletonwitch seemed promising enough with new vocalist Adam Clemans on the 2016 comeback EP The Apothic Gloom. All they had to do was step up their game just a notch or two to really deliver something killer. The two singles off Devouring Radiant Light indicated that maybe they did. In context with the rest of the album, that’s not the case.

Devouring Radiant Light‘s lead single “Fen Of Shadows” dropped back in late April. The track is a full eight minutes of blackened death metal with touches of an viking feel and plenty of lead guitar lines to catch your ear. “When Paradise Fades” debuted in June and took more of a modern retro-thrash-meets-heavy-metal approach that also fell well into the blackened realms of what you’d expect of Skeletonwitch, but that’s when the cracks started showing. “Fen Of Shadows” is a solid eight minutes of varied material, but “When Paradise Fades” leaned pretty heavily on the main riff and never bothered to go anywhere else thematically. It just spins its wheels in the mud and belches up plumes of choking smoke. Which is basically the story of Devouring Radiant Light as a whole album – rage without substance.

The album’s songwriting is one dimensional and leans heavily into themes that really can’t carry a song in full, especially for songs that breach six and seven minutes. Sure, “Fen Of Shadows” was interesting as a single, but really only as a standalone work does it retain its luster. If this were a debut album from a brand new band, I’d call it fairly promising should they be able to build on that foundation. But Skeletonwitch has been around for 15 years. They’ve had Clemans since late 2015 and had time to work out whatever kinks there might be on The Apothic Gloom, or at least find and hone their new voice. Instead, Skeletonwitch presents varying shades of worn out blackened thrash metal that really should’ve stayed in the demo stages longer than it seems to have.

Adam Clemans is a good vocalist. I love his work in both Wolvhammer and Iron Thrones. He’s just not a great fit for Skeletonwitch. Devouring Radiant Light feels like Skeletonwitch is trying to meet Clemans in the middle – they’ll throw baseline melodic death/black metal songwriting in a bowl and hope Clemans can make something palatable of out of the dull. There’s just no adventure or evolution of Skeletonwitch‘s sound on Devouring Radiant Light from their 2016 effort. It’s just a flat, longer version of The Apothic Gloom. What makes this even more disappointing is that Skeletonwitch is clearly capable of changing it up and making good records. They’ve got five albums and EP between 2004 and 2013 with ex-vocalist Chance Garnette that range from pretty good to awesome, and now they’ve slowed that progression to a crawl.

Devouring Radiant Light is also loud and fuzzy in all the wrong ways. Clean guitar passages that explode into full band sections remain extremely close in, if not the exact same, volumes. There are simply no dynamics. The guitars sound oversaturated with distortion and it doesn’t help that Clemans is screaming from under twenty tons of overdrive as well. Which is surprising considering Kurt Ballou’s recordings are almost always some of my favorites of the year, but it’s worth noting that the record was mixed by Fredrik Nordström and mastered by Brad Boatright. Devouring Radiant Light is, in a word, grating to listen to. It’s all high-end frequencies, distortion, and thin black metal tones that pay homage to the early days of the genre, but don’t really hold up in 2018 at all.

Oh well. I’d love to see Skeletonwitch get it together on their next effort. Maybe a little more time with Clemans will do them well. Maybe tension between the band and drummer Dustin Boltjes had something to do with the record’s quality, since he was mysteriously let go right after its recording. Maybe ex-Job For A Cowboy drummer Jon Rice, who’s currently playing with the band live, will join full time and make the next album phenomenal. All I can say with certainty is that Devouring Radiant Light just isn’t doing it for me in a lot of ways.

Buy Devouring Radiant Light here.

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