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Confirming that they've lost it - 25%

Kruel, November 9th, 2008

Immolation is often considered to be a very consistent band, but that is really not true at all. It is almost impossible to tell that this is the same band that wrote Here in After and Failures for Gods, let alone Dawn of Possession, just by listening to this album. And the reason for this is not just a stylistic issue; the drop in quality itself is glaringly obvious. Shadows in the Light is possibly the nadir of Immolation's career.

Production is inorganic and somewhat mechanical like Close to A World Below, but worse. The guitar tone is fucking wimpish and frustrating, except for when the leads are being played, in which case it is annoyingly loud, and the slightly tin can-like drums don¡¯t help, either. There is no sense of darkness or evil vibe given from this production. It even lacks any heaviness, superficial or otherwise. However, production is far from being the biggest flaw on this album.

It seems like Immolation tried to out-solo both Altars of Madness and Rust in Peace. It feels like half the album is consisting of guitar solos, and there are also a bunch of leads that are not solos, so they almost succeed in terms of quantity. Unfortunately, that is not true of quality. The solos on this album lack both the morbidity of Altars of Madness' solos or the beauty of Rust in Peace's (not that having beautiful solos in this type of death metal album is exactly an option to begin with, but at least in that case the solos would have provided some enjoyment, no matter how big the disparity between them and the rest of the music is). Unlike early Immolation, which used guitar solos as an effective compositional device by playing solos that were important in the overall flow of the song as well as being coherently structured in themselves, this new Immolation (it is tempting to say "nu," but that would be a bit too far-fetched) plays leads because, well... to show off their technical skills? While that hypothesis is very implausible since you can always affirm your technical ability with one well-done flashy solo, it really does seem to be the correct one because every other possible motivation for abusing guitar leads is invalid here: the leads don't contribute anything to the flow of the songs (not that there is any flow to the songs to begin with, but the leads still make them more irritating and directionless), and they don't sound good in themselves (they are just shredding and dissonance-ridden yet too bright, with no build-up, climax, or resolution). Wait, I can think of one reason: to bury the riffs. Even this hypothesis is not entirely immune to criticism due to the irritating nature of the solos, which makes one question how anybody would want to bring such abominations up to the surface, but the riffs certainly suggest that this was a likely motivation for abusing the leads. And after all, the leads do succeed at burying the riffs.

Unfortunately, the leads fail to bury the riffs that are not being played simultaneously with them. The riffs suit the frustrating and wimpish guitar tone very well, for the same adjectives apply to the riffs. But that is not all -- another adjective, annoying, is added. Riffs are mostly semi-technical or chugging, with several tremolo-picked, and none of them ever bring any sense of atmosphere or emotion. And the worst part is... pinch harmonics. Ever since Here in After, Immolation made extensive use of pinch harmonics, but here, they just take it too far. The fundamental difference between Here in After or Failures for Gods and this album is this: in the former, pinch harmonics were used for the riffs; in the latter, riffs are written for pinch harmonics. Perhaps they were already being too liberal with pinch harmonics in Here in After, but in that album for most riffs you would think "well, that riff would have been a bit awkward without that pinch harmonic there; good decision," but when listening to Shadows in the Light, what you think is "fuck, I wish they don't use more than three squealed notes in the next riff." It's that excessive, and otherwise mediocre-to-sub-par but inoffensive riffs are turned into ear-tortures. With such dysfunctional individual riffs, it is practically impossible to arrange them correctly. If you are trying to build some structure with lego blocks but each block is distorted, then no matter what you do they don't fit together. That is exactly what is happening on this album. And of course, as was mentioned above, the leads break in every now and then to further disparage the structure of the songs.

There is nothing enjoyable for me in this album; but apparently, a lot of people do enjoy it, so I guess that is "a matter of taste." However, there is one thing I can say with a fair amount of objectivity: despite all the dissonance, this album lacks the darkness, morbidity, and the "graveyard essence" of old school death metal that made up early Immolation. So, if you think those qualities are more or less essential in death metal stay away from Shadows in the Light.