For many years Skeletonwitch has been a band on the cusp of the elite of American metal bands. From their early blackened thrash era, they earned an army of fans thirsting for some grimness with their circle-pits. A no-nonsense approach and the beer-swilling Berserkers pillaging your town every tour vibe built a reputation of a bunch of guys you not only wanted to support but felt like they could be your friends. Over the course of the last few years since adding vocalist Adam Clemans, their more kvlt musical tastes have refined and now come to the forefront. They have taken great care to remain true to their high standards of writing, lest they let themselves, or the fans down.
Thus begins the aural journey of the new full-length Devouring Radiant Light (Prosthetic Records). The promise on the previous EP was fully delivered on here. A full-clout album chock full of epic second wave black metal worship (think Emperor, Ulver, Enslaved, and Immortal’s earliest albums). Harrowing feeling, harsh and cold; this album replete with bangers for even the most jaded trve school fan. The band has sacrificed none of their musicality, and it shows. While most of the songs crush, there are great moments of ethereal layered guitars, and even the classic twin melo-death guitar harmonies the band dabbled with early on. Typically when a band makes a gradual change in their sound, some elements are erased from the palette. Not this album and not this band. It is very much a guitar players album, with Nathan Garnette and Scott Hedrick towing the weight of the tracks. Chugging riffs and rhythms, tremolo picked notes rain down like daggers on verses and choruses galore full of blackened death metal.
From the opening notes to the lead track and first single ‘Fen of Shadows’, this album rules so hard. You will be compelled to throw the horns when the first verse hits. Clemans one-ups his best performances ever vocally, even from his main gig in Wolvhammer, no stranger to throat-shredding vocals. His performance is one of the best this year.
There is a variety from track to track and it feels effortless. The running solo lines that pierce ‘When Paradise Fades’, The At The Gates and early Goatwhore riff appreciation of ‘Temple of The Sun’. Even the marching Wolvhammer-style beat frenzy makes an appearance on the slick cut ‘The Luminous Sky’. Also, who doesn’t love a death/black gang vocal? It’s things like that the entire way through that really stand out. All the songs are excellent, but in moments when you re-listen to tracks like the intro to ‘The Vault’, which calls to mind mid-era post-metal Neurosis, you see the value the band has placed on songcraft like never before.
The title track is a masterpiece and the zenith of the album. Another dose of proto Neurosis/Ulver/Opeth light and shade will just pull all of the emotions out of you. This track also makes you appreciate work of the holy trinity of metal producers/mixers/and mastering, um.. masters that Kurt Ballou, Fredrik Nordström, and Brad Boatright undoubted are.
The album finishes just as strong as it opens with the speedy ‘Carnarium Eternal’, and the bleak ‘Sacred Soil’
There will undoubtedly be some unbelievers and non-holdovers who can’t roll with the new Skeletonwitch, and that’s a shame. This album is a high mark for USBM, the band themselves, and certainly one of the top albums of 2018 every fan should own.