The last Sky Shadow Obelisk release, full length debut Beacon, was a deeply unsettling piece of music. The project’s past largely consisted of doom/death metal verging on funeral terrain, but that album greatly upped both the dynamics and disturbing factor. Sometimes it felt like Virus had they evolved from funeral doom, other times like the reverse, and always while on all of the laudanum. Being “Lovecraftian” in nature is nothing new in metal, but Beacon sounded like Lovecraft often reads: flowingly narrative, truly bizarre, and purposefully disquieting at every turn.
In short, it was both a captivating and difficult listen. That Peter Scartabello, the lone man behind Sky Shadow Obelisk, would choose to rein in the horror on his next release is not a surprise; Beacon had to be as exhausting for the composer as it was for the listener. But that does not make The Gift of Light any less of a step forward, nor any less of a surprise. If anything, this EP shatters any expectations about where Scartabello is willing to take the project, making it even more of a worthy experience for adventuresome fans are dark, weird art.
In many ways, The Gift of Light expands the Sky Shadow Obelisk sound, but unlike Beacon, the individual elements are quite identifiable in terms of typical genre tags. In less than 23 minutes over two tracks, The Gift of Light covers synthesizer ambience, grunge, raging black metal, and melodic doom/death. Each passage can be cut out and firmly identified, but the shocking thing about the EP is how well the full arc works as a whole, and how Scartabello has lost none of the narrative quality that permeated Beacon.
The title track begins things in pure ambient synth mode before quickly giving way to softer rock and then full, heavy grunge (think Screaming Trees or Agents of Oblivion; Scartabello definitely has a touch of Lanegan or Riggs). The occasionally dissonant, oddball prog riff calls back to Beacon, injecting just enough weirdness to not make the full thing an exercise in relaxation.
Seemingly out of nowhere at about the 8:30 mark, the song goes into full blasting black metal territory, sometimes repeating previous chord progressions but mostly focusing on malevolence. It stops as quickly as it starts, hinting at a return to the grunge before quickly dropping back into the ambience, washing away the beast that temporarily revealed its face. In spite of this odd structure, the song works, quite well in fact.
On the surface, “The Promise of Darkness” is far more straightforward: a killer verse based on a few simple-but-infectious doom riffs and Scartabello’s great death growls, and a damn catchy chorus of clean vocals and honest to goodness hooks. The formula is expanded using a really great solo section, and a coda that feels almost stoner, at least until you account for the harsh screams and haunting female vocals. It is maybe the coolest track released yet under the Sky Shadow Obelisk moniker, but even when being (relatively) conventional, the project can’t help but be at least a little weird.
And thank the Old Ones for that, eh? Projects like Sky Shadow Obelisk should be treasured for their dedication to experimentation and being truly unique, whether the intent is to creep out the listener (Beacon) or offer something of a relatively easy listening nature (this one). The Promise of Light finds a way to simultaneously expand and contract the scope of Sky Shadow Obelisk, and for those familiar with the project, that ought to create excitement for the next expression of Scartabello’s strange vision.