Good doom-death metal is depressing. That’s the point. Life can be bleak and it often burdens us with pain so heavy it challenges our very right to exist. The best bands in the genre have a penchant for persuading listeners that the more time they spend in the mire, the better. My Dying Bride, early Anathema and Katatonia, and Swallow the Sun set the bar for gut wrenching, gloomy doom contrasted with crushing death designed to drive the listener a few steps further into despondency, as if to remind us that even our darkest days can become darker. But then there is hope — the indomitable force within the human spirit that somehow finds the tiniest bit of light in that blackness and clings to it. This is the dynamic at work on the aptly titled Into the Light.
Whereas up to now The Prophecy have seemed content in the role of competent understudy, previous efforts being passable replications of established entries in the field, their latest work reveals a welcome maturation. The British quartet’s third full length record finds them paring away embellishment by dropping conventional violin accompaniment and upping the intensity by focusing on grittier, riff intensive rhythm work. That isn’t to say that they’ve sacrificed delicacy for brute strength but, rather, that they’ve opted to allow songwriting to draw the crucial contrasts. As in the title track, oppressive funereal dirge is carefully interwoven with light acoustic passages. Driving, punctuated, progressive rhythmic runs in “All is Lost” turn to desperate, aggressive riffs layered over menacing vocals. The relatively restrained rhythms of “Water’s Deep” give rise to floating, ethereal melody that inevitably succumbs to a churning, death riff vortex. As if to mirror life, moments of sober reflection are often driven to deep melancholy, but sometimes give strength to gossamer hopes.
In terms of performance, there’s an uncanny synchronicity among the players on this album that synthesizes individual excellence into a monumentally cohesive whole. The solo work of Greg O’Shea, while technically exceptional, absolutely exudes emotion, the sort of impassioned fretwork that compels one to pause and admire (see “Echoes” for a sublimely sweet example). Matt Lawson, whose vocals on earlier albums might be justifiably criticized as derivative of the genre, has developed a unique style with which he elegantly conducts the album’s eight track discourse of dark and light. Whereas his death growls are supremely coarse and at times convey a genuine malevolence, Lawson’s contrasting clean vocals, honest and evocative, enwrap the listener in a somber, empathic embrace. Percussionist John Bennett handles the delicate balance of mass and ambience with expert dexterity and Gavin Parkinson’s bass play provides a hardy, sonorous foundation for the album’s masterfully crafted songs. The album’s production is superbly executed, allowing each of the instruments to contribute to the captivating ebb and flow without sacrificing the heft and depth of the band’s sound.
Into the Light’s exhibition of the ever present struggle between hope and despair, so familiar to us all, is nothing short of a journey. And in the end the listener is left with “Hope,” the album’s outstanding final track, a piece that humbly pays homage to fellow countrymen, Warning. This excruciatingly poignant song weaves sincerely plaintive vocals into vast expanses of epic doom in reminding us that it is often life’s most tragic moments that bring us back to that for which we can be grateful, that even in loss we can find strength, and that without darkness there can be no light.