Skeletonwitch survive tumult, tear back with devastating new record ‘Devouring Radiant Light’

Photo by Nico Poalillo

If you were to make two lists, one with bands that never had issues or turnover and one with bands that did, the one with constant issues would be way, way longer. Sometimes that’s for the better. Trimming the bad influences or members whose hearts aren’t in it can be good for creativity, and it could mean new life for the music.

For Athens, Ohio, natives Skeletonwitch, the upheaval they experienced a few years back was for the better. Skeptical? OK, so take on “Devouring Radiant Light,” the best goddamn album this band ever released, and tell me I’m wrong. Guitarist Nate Garnette had to push his brother Chance out of the band after an incident we don’t care to detail here, and that could have meant death for the band. Instead, five years after “Serpents Unleashed,” and with new vocalist Adam Clemans (Wolvhammer) in tow, they put out their defining album, a record that restarts the entire machine and delivers a classic record into their arsenal. They’ve put out good records before. This band is no slouch. But the material they—the band is rounded out by guitarist Scott Hendrick, bassist Evan Linger—deliver here is unstoppable, undeniable, and that of a band that looked its demise right in the eye and spat in it. This is a tremendous record, and, despite the seriousness of what pushed Chance from the band, they’re better off now.

“Fen of Shadows” starts the record in the arms of classic-style guitars before the track launches in full. Clemans’ corrosive growls rip open healed scabs, while a punchy/melodic chorus injects energy. A moment of calm breezes in before the leads catch fire, and everything resolves in the eye of a storm. “When Paradise Fades” begins with Judas Priest-style glory, speedy playing, and a punk-fueled tempo. The vocals burn, while the bulk of the track surges your blood, with even some tasty spurts of black metal. “Temple of the Sun” has a blistering start, as the growls maul, the playing floods the senses, and melody and savagery duel it out for supremacy. A killer solo kicks in later, giving off a trad metal vibe, and some strong clean singing adds a lighter nuance that leads into a halo of chaos. The title cut starts with serene guitars before things trickle open, and the guitars begin to shred. Clemans’ vocals are in full command, especially over the punchy chorus, while the riffs deliver battle blows, and things bleed away emotionally.

“The Luminous Sky” stampedes open, with the growls mangling, and the band jamming the speed pedal. Clemans’ delivery turns guttural and ugly, while the pace punishes all the way to its finish. “The Vault” is the longest song, clocking in at 8:52, and it starts on a somber note, setting its atmosphere before lightning strikes. The song floods the gates, with the vocals crushing and the band delivering utter mayhem designed to tear you apart. Black metal-style melodies take hold, as the intensity builds, sending blood and guts rushing everywhere. “Carnarium Eternal” is a total assault, with Clemans wailing, “Rise! Rise! Rise!” and the guitars going into battle mode. “I will consume all that’s inside,” Clemans vows, as the song is consumed by war. Closer “Sacred Soil” has guitars spinning, black metal-style gusts, and the vocals wrenching. The tide subsides for as bit, letting some warmer guitars into the room, but then it’s back to a full darkness blitz. The melodies race, there is a deluge of power, and finally the song is swallowed into the abyss, left to float in an endless haze.

Whatever you thought of Skeletonwitch before now, rethink it. This is a new band with a new lease on life, and they put their hearts, souls, and guts into “Devouring Radiant Light.” This is a record that should solidify their stronghold and even bring in skeptics watching from the outside. This band always has been for real, and they have a bloody, punishing new record to again prove their prowess.

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