Veteran axemen Nate Garnette and Scott Hedrick have picked up the bones left behind through the turmoil of a chaotic period and breathed new life into the group with recent arrival Adam Clemans as the focus of this fusion between old and new, on what will be Clemans’ first full-length album since becoming Skeletonwitch’s vocalist.
After listening to the new album, The Apothic Gloom EP suddenly makes more sense as a necessary leap forward and a transitory piece that leads into what Skeletonwitch have become. The organism that was Skeletonwitch at the peak of thrash metal’s renaissance has decayed and altered into a beautiful symbiosis of the past and present.
The void left behind by Chance Garnette’s unceremonious departure has been harnessed into an explosive transformation that culminates into a powerhouse. Characterized by its maturity and steadfastness to Skeletonwitch’s signature variety of styles, Devouring Radiant Light is an ascending eclipse on a fifteen-year-long career.
A lot can, and in most cases, should, happen over the course of five years, and Skeletonwitch have not made the fatal mistake of sitting in stagnation. Many other artists may be clinging to the shell of something that no longer serves them, but for Skeletonwitch this seems to have been a creatively fruitful hiatus.
Far outside of their comfort zone, the group may have alienated some of their base, but I don’t think that will be the case here for most of their fans. Skeletonwitch’s core following has grown up quite a bit since their first Prosthetic Records release, Beyond The Permafrost, took them to the peaks of thrash metal’s late 2000s revival. It stands to reason the band should also make strides to mature as well, and so they have.
The riffs on Devouring Radiant Light feel more calculated; the leads feel more relevant than the tired and lackadaisical workings of Serpents Unleashed, and I believe that the band feels more complete. The hollow vibe holding them back on their last LP, released five years ago, has been overcome with a surge of momentum.
I’ll probably get a lot of heat for saying this, but there’s something about Clemans voice that feels more appropriately suited to the guitars, and I don’t believe Chance could have done what Adam does on Devouring Radiant Light. Clemans’ vocal range and the potency of his voice offers a bit more than Garnette did, and overall the music has more vitality as a result. What Garnette offered in unrestrained ferocity, Clemans makes up for with a honed delivery that never misses its mark. This conversion imparts a necessary wisdom; growing up and dealing with the pressures of change demands more than rampant zeal, it requires a refinement of character for progress.
Skeletonwitch has not completely abandoned their roots. The powerful thrash riffs are still a part of the fabric in their songwriting. Within the frenzy of style, the band still maintains the framework of late 80s melody-driven and speed-obsessed composition.
The opening track, “Fen of Shadows,” starts off with a brilliant requiem for a past left behind, before charging off into a threatening unknown. Classically inspired hooks may sink into the ears and cycle around in the brain long after one has turned off the album. The atmospheric layers and progressive change-ups on the new album present Skeletonwitch at their most formidable and complex.
Devouring Radiant Light leaves a lingering presence that you should not be disappointed with. There will be true ragers, like “The Luminous Sky,” a track that should convince even the most stubborn cynic that this band still wants to tear shit up. Then there are the slower, methodical derivatives of doom and tragedy that leave ominous impressions, like “The Vault,” a mystical sojourn that drags along with enchanting melancholy before turning in on itself with ecstatic riffs.
The dynamics of the title track interchange seamlessly, with emphasis on a masterful use of revolving tension building up and pushing the song’s momentum into the climatic outro. Like powerful waves dissipating into a calm sea, “Devouring Radiant Light” washes out with simple, somber guitar work.
Throughout the album, you’ll find elegant harmonies rising out of the cacophony of brutal rhythms, in likeness to the technique of Immortal or Amon Amarth. A flood of raw power, Devouring Radiant Light rivals anything that Skeletonwitch has ever done.
If you’re too ‘old school’ for what is in store for Skeletonwitch’s future, then be my guest; you’ve decided to stand on the edge of a crumbling cliff, defiant against the necessary tides of change. If, however, you give Devouring Radiant Light an objective appraisal, you’ll see the force of nature pushing four professionals forward.
Devouring Radiant Light is an excellent return for Skeletonwitch, but it’s also a statement of graceful maturity from Prosthetic’s most rad thrashers, who became hardened by fate and eager to prove themselves in the tundra of these strange new times.