PICK OF THE WEEK: Spotlights use dark energy to examine mystery on murky ‘Alchemy for the Dead’

Death touches us all. Sure, we have our own ending to consider, the inevitable final step in all of our lives that looms large over everything. We also deal with the loss of others, the memories and longing for connection with those who have entered the beyond, and even the demise of parts of our culture. We cannot avoid this, and the only way to deal is to go through it.

These were the types of themes in the minds of Pittsburgh’s Spotlights when creating their fantastic new record “Alchemy for the Dead,” their fourth album and one that delves even further into their psyches. While the band operates on the perimeter of metal, there’s enough heaviness in the music and the lyrical content to find a home among those who indulge in brutality. In fact, last summer the band—vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Mario Quintero, bassist/vocalist Sarah Quintero, drummer/vocalist Chris Enriquez—played a support slot for Cave In and found kinship with the audience with their blend of heaviness and dreamy murkiness. These nine songs are some of the most realized and emotionally impactful of Spotlights’ run, and this is an album that hopefully opens more eyes and ears to their mesmerizing, sometimes stormy pathway through all the ways death touches our lives.

“Beyond the Broken Sky” slowly emerges, the song bubbling and floating, jostling your insides. The mood then gusts as punches land, Mario calling, “But I can’t see the stars, now I can see the stars,” as the track fades in exhaust. “The Alchemist” enters amid beats and impulses, doomy waves crashing as the singing induces shadows. Toy piano notes confound as guitars stretch, sounds crashing through transmissions that are both eerie and jolting, crashing into the ground. “Sunset Burial” liquifies as the bass drives hard, guitars and synth mixing into a ghostly force, crashing and whirring like a hallucination. “Just go spitting out the words no one needs to know, right up to the end, you’ll hide under the ground,” Mario sings, sinister and striking visions lightning up the night sky. “Algorithmic” is sinewy, basking in thick bass buzz, the singing punchier and also a little higher register. The chorus is lush but elements of this are dirtier, leaving ash and chaos, fading in an electric fog.

“False Gods” has claps and gnarly guitars chewing their way in, heavy damage being sustained even as moodier elements attempt to soothe. Tenor sax from Ben Opie (himself a musician at renowned Carnegie Mellon University) makes your mind spin, as Mario wails, “There’s no use in looking up, weak little creature made for disaster, maybe there’s something you can believe in now?” as the track blisters in gaze. “Repeat the Silence” has riffs sneaking in as hushed singing lulls, eventually opening and smearing, the aggression being amped up to dangerous levels. Keys glisten as the guitars hypnotize, yells bristling and shaking loose your nerves. “Ballad in the Mirror” is both dreamy and alarming, letting you bask in cooler waters before lightning ripples. Spacious playing feels liberating, then it mixes with thorny edges, drawing blood and leading you into the cosmos. “Crawling Toward the Light” is grungy and immersive, Mario calling, “Call the shot straight to your heart, cut the shock straight from your heart.” The chorus is rousing and crushing, sweeping with energy and emotion, bringing sludgy hammers that leave bruising before zapping into the stars. The closing title track starts with acoustics and softer singing, the strangeness swelling before your eyes. “You’re not gonna heal me,” Mario insists, “It’s too late to help me now, and you’ll never believe me, but no one hear me now.” Mellotron quivers as electric squalls send pulses, heaviness looms large, and acoustic strains return, leaving only stardust behind.

Our eventual demise can be incredibly uncomfortable, even terrifying, but its inevitability is something we cannot avoid. Spotlights steer headlong into that thinking as they examine it from every end, every twist of psychosis on “Alchemy for the Dead,” their most immersive record they’ve ever done. It’s not easy to think about or confront, but with songs like these nine, it can open our brains and hearts and try to make the darkness a little more inviting.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/spotlightsband

To buy the album, go here: https://www.blixtmerchandise.com/collections/ipecac-recordings

For more on the label, go here: https://ipecac.com/

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