With 2018’s Devouring Radiant Light (DRL), Skeletonwitch have succeeded where many bands have failed: they have reformulated their sound mid-career with dizzyingly triumphant results. Since the band’s inception, they have been known for blending and bending metal subgenres. Their collective love of Judas Priest, classic-era Metallica and Immortal has always been worn on their sleeves. However, it’s the band’s blacker leanings that have shifted to the forefront and altered the tenor of the through line on this latest offering.
Grasping the blackened thread of “White Light” that first appeared on their 2016 EP, The Apothic Gloom (the band’s first recording with vocalist Adam Clemans), Skeletonwitch has emerged with the eight-song, searing, soaring, burning statement of purpose. DRL demonstrates a band coalescing both compositionally and conceptually. Three of the eight tracks on DRL hover near the seven minute mark and a fourth nearly reaches nine minutes. DRL is a band cultivating new ambition.
While black metal has always been a recognizable component of the Skeletonwitch sound, DRL sees the band leaning all the way in with epic results. Where Skeletonwitch previously ran its output through a Second Wave Black Metal filter, DRL incorporates a strong atmospheric influence. Bergtatt-era Ulver and Cascadian black metal influences are on full display. From ethereal intros to tremolo sky-ride leads, DRL is draped with and adorned in black metal’s lexicon. But the expansion of influence does not stop there.
Nathan Garnette and Scott Hedrick are still co-captaining the dual-guitar stratospheric charge but they’ve dramatically expanded their palette. Celestial crunch that evokes post-metal pioneers, Isis? Check. Gothic doom passages à la Paradise Lost? Check. High-flying Åkerfeldt-ian solos slingshotting over mountains of undulating progressive rhythms? Check. The foundation for this sonic structure is the effortless bass work of Evan Linger who possesses some of the strongest 4-string chops of any player in heavy music. Providing requisite room for the guitar maelstrom, Linger arrives with dazzling yet tasteful runs in just the right places.
And then there’s vocalist Adam Clemans. Equal parts Tompa Lindberg fury and Jacob Bannon punk rage, Clemans’ creative intensity and sense of purpose fueled the band’s new musical trajectory. His organic writing lends the band gravitas and his vocal performance is nothing short of heroic.
Like the previous full-length, this album, the band’s first full-length in five years, was recorded by Converge guitarist and engineering deity Kurt Ballou (High on Fire, Kvelertak, Chelsea Wolfe) at GodCity Studio in Salem, Massachusetts. The band’s rapport with Ballou provided the familiarity necessary to embrace uncharted creative territory. Melodeath genre architect Fredrik Nordström (Opeth, At the Gates) mixed the album at Studio Fredman in Gothenburg, Sweden. The record was mastered by Brad Boatright of metallic hardcore greats From Ashes Rise at Audiosiege Engineering in Portland, Oregon.