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Light diet - 50%

Xyrth, December 5th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Prosthetic Records (Digipak)

I honestly feel guilty for wanting Skeletonwitch to create longer songs. After 2009's Breathing the Fire I was hoping they experimented with longer formats for their subsequent albums. I envisioned perhaps an over 5-minute tune or two per album, tops, without changing their formula, just an extended, more epic approach to their well-established concise soul thrashing black sorcery. That didn't happen, anyway, at least not in their Chance years. Adam Clemans arrived, and suddenly the band started breaching the five-minute mark, albeit in a more straightforward, less exciting manner. Man, what the hell? “The Apothic Gloom” and “Red Death, White Light”, from Clemans' debuting EP a few years back, weren't bad but couldn't meet the high expectations I had formed in my fanboy wankerish dreams. Forward to 2018, the 'witch has released their sixth LP, the first with Clemans, and their longest to date, with four tracks being over six minutes and forty seconds in length, aaand… it sucks. Big time.

Don't believe me? Let's do a simple exercise, then. Just listen to the first 45 seconds of every Skeletonwitch album opener starting with their debut's "The Skullsplitter" until you hit “Fen of Shadows” in this one. See? Before, it took them just a couple of seconds to hook you immediately. Now, after almost two minutes of needless build up one realizes one terrible truth: These guys have lost it, almost completely. Gone are the masterfully crafted scorching riffs, the delicious melodies and their concise but fun-stuffed style of old. In its place, we encounter a greater desire to explore atmosphere and sad melodies in the vein of the Cascadian black metal scene. Not that I dislike every band that employs said aesthetic, but never in my wildest dreams I though Skeletonwitch would attempt to become one of them. Sure, you'll hear the occasional semi-thrashy moment in Devouring Radiant Light, precise d-beats and fast tempos, but it's now mostly watered down amidst this unwarranted modern blackened non-sense, and pointlessly stretched compositions. The production doesn't help either, with a grainy mix that feel out of place for the style.

I have to give Clemans credit for trying to sound a bit closer to Garnette this time around. Not a complete success, but much better than his previous hardcore kid approach. That is practically the only positive point this record possesses, though. Of course he's just not as good as Chance, but in a similar manner to the latest Immortal release and Demonaz' vocal delivery in it, he pays homage to its better known (and much superior) previous frontman. My main complaint this time, is with the extremely talented musicians, especially riff-masters N8 Garnette and Scott Hendrick, both of which have created some of the most outstanding rhythmic riffs in the whole metal realm for the last decade. Devouring Radiant Light features an alarming scarcity of those. In their quest for melancholic ambience, these gents have forgotten to forge blood-quickening riffs. Most songs have functional but generic ones, a lot of them are mid-paced chug-alongs and while the melodies are overall better, they too don't sound very inspired. The solos are also subpar given the proficiency of Skeletonwitch's axe team, devoid of explosion and excitement. The best guitar performance here can be found in the “When Paradise Fades” and especially in “Temple of the Sun”, the best track here by far, almost managing to conjure up the magic of old.

I know what they say about experimentation and “growing up” as an artist, but one can counter that argument with the phrase “if it ain't broken…”. It certainly depends on the band, and I'm not against artists trying new things, but in Skeletonwitch's case, their signature early sound was virtually perfect, so fun and successful it led to other bands trying to exploit it (Battlecross, Black Fast, Bulletbelt and so on…) with varying degrees of success. Listening to something like this album's title-track or the elongated dirge “The Vault” makes me either want to listen to old Skeletonwitch or to other atmospheric black metal bands that display this style in much interesting ways. Closer "Sacred Soil" almost manages to make something worthwhile within this new aesthetic, but fall a bit short.

Though apparently tasty and substantial, Devouring Radiant Light doesn't provide the required nutrition for the average metalhead, being low on carbs and good riffs, high on unnecessary fat and inflated with meh-tamines. For me this is one of the greatest disappointments of the decade. The only thing I'd like from this band from now on is for them to recapture their former short-format glory or their foul-mouthed original frontman… or both, ideally. In the meantime, Skeletonwitch sounds and looks just like the Nâzgul-guy on the cover; hollow, weightless and uneventful.