Originally written by Ramar Pittance
Immolation’s 2005 offering, Harnessing Ruin, was met with mixed reviews by the metal community. While nobody outright slagged the band’s first effort in three years after the mighty Unholy Cult, it seemed even the most die-hard Immolation devotees were willing to admit that Harnessing Ruinwas probably the first Immolation album that could be fairly labeled as a disappointment. Now, with a shorter break between albums than the hiatus that preceded Harnessing Ruin, the band returns with perhaps their most raw and immediate recording to date – Shadows in the Light. While not quite on par with the string of classics that came before Harnessing Ruin,Shadows is a step in the right direction and a treat for those who worship visceral and chaotic occult death metal.
SitL‘s murky production is what will make or break this album for those yet to fully embrace this band: it sounds muddy even by Immolation’s standards. To some the mental image of the band recording this album in a series of single takes in a Yonkers apartment building might enhance the listening experience, to others the recordings might just sound a little undercooked. Despite lacking polish and balance, the production does help preserve Immolation’s harsh and esoteric sound. ”Passion Kill,” and theHere In After styled “Lying with Demons,” are ferocious tracks that each feature an improvisational looseness that is well-suited to the garage-style production. Conversely, “Tarnished,” and “Shadows in the Light,” are both filler ridden and underwritten tracks that, despite featuring some dark and inspired melodies (1:45 of “Tarnished”), can’t stand up the unflattering production. In addition to the filler found on some of these tracks, I also have issue with the choices the band makes in the lead/melody writing department. Many of the melodies (“World Agony,” “Hate’s Plague,” “Breathing in the Dark,” and “World Agony”) all feature leads or melodies that are nothing more than a higher pitched facsimile of the song’s main riff. Hearing the band use this slightly hackneyed technique on so many songs, in my opinion, speaks of laziness and a lack of inspiration. Elsewhere, “Whispering Death” features manic and sloppy soloing the likes of which hasn’t really frightened anybody in a long time.
So, with all these flaws, what makes SitL such a step up from Harnessing Ruin? Ultimately, it’s the brief moments of magic that pop up between filler and the handful of songs that feature Immolation running on all cylinders that make this album worthwhile. The thrashy edge to “Breathing in the Dark,” sees the band taking their sound in a slightly different direction and provides for some unexpected straightforward head-banging, despite the sub-par soloing. “Deliverer of Evil” is rife with Immolation’s trademark pulsing, dark, and dissonant riffs and unsettling harmonies that shed light on their blackened/occult side. This is another track that would sound right at home on Here in After. “The Weight of Devotion” features a classic harmonic dotted intro and is one of the few tracks on the album where the band sounds like they are composing and performing like pros, rather than just reeling off one frantic riff after another. Finally, with album closer “Whispering Death,” Immolation offer some of the most focused and well-composed music on Shadows in the Light. While still composed of an abundance of dissonant riffs and chord progressions, each section builds upon the one that came before it and builds to a climactic exit.
While no Immolation album can be described as easy listening, the trek through SitL is particularly arduous because so many of its most inspired moments are surrounded by filler or marred by poor production. However, these songs will undoubtedly reward those willing to concentrate and wade through the sludge. And considering their track record and the types of listeners they attract, I have no doubt there are many death metal fans who will be up the challenge. In sum, this is a flawed album that is redeemed by a veteran band’s irrepressible genius.