As much as I hate to admit it, my appreciation for doom has declined over the years. Back when I was first getting into metal, I remember scouring the doom metal Wikipedia page for info on the genre and purchasing all the My Dying Bride, Katatonia, and Swallow the Sun CDs my minimum-wage high school job could afford. But in recent years, I’ve become too impatient to sit and ponder dreary sadboy melodies or chords that reverberate for ten seconds at a time. Thus it was with some apprehension that I approached the self-titled debut of Seattle-based quartet Predatory Light, whose previous split and two demos garnered them the ‘black/doom’ tag from fellow internet metalheads. I was curious – would these New Mexico transplants relish in mushy nothingness or use actual riffs to plumb the fearful Lovecraftian depths?
Fortunately, it turns out the doom tag is a bit of a misnomer. Unlike what I was expecting – that is, either the funeral black of Nortt or the horrifying genre fusion of Necrite – Light coalesce the two styles in a way that combines the grim mood and tempo of mid-paced black metal with the haunting atmosphere and ghoulish leads of the most ominous graveyard doom. After a minute of creeping ambiance, opener “Laughing Wound” begins with an eerie, winding lead and plodding chords that give way to hammering blastbeats and frightful ascending intervals. While vocalist Luke Sheppard (also of defunct drone group Drought) usually sticks to a cavernous death growl, late highlight “Sacrum (Feral Devotion)” mixes things up with ghastly shrieks alongside lashing tremolos, which emerge from the song’s riffy foundation like vengeful spirits bursting from the walls.
It’s soon clear the real standout is the guitar-work of Sheppard and fellow guitarist Kyle Morgan (Ash Borer). While there’s plenty of solid and imposing riffing throughout these six tracks, the focus of each song seems to be needly, repeating leads. After its stomping verse, “Lurid Hand” introduces a melody with foreboding Eastern flair, while “Divine Membrane” rides on an encircling lead that sounds like something from a subterranean cult ritual. As best showcased on the plunging chords and squealing trills of closer “Born of the Wrong Blood,” the overall vibe is something like that conjured by Danish death metal bands Church Bizarre and Cerekloth. The lead-work is quick and hummable, yet haunting and sinister. Even for someone who’s doom boner went flaccid years ago, I love it. Unlike the shuffling pace one might expect, the drums spend most of these 41 minutes at a swift marching tempo, only occasionally lapsing into blasting or slower dirges.
Rounded out by an excellent mix and delightfully crisp cymbals, there’s a lot to like here, but Light is not without flaws. With repeat listens the aforementioned leads begin to feel a little too similar and repetitive, and it’s soon obvious more variety is needed. In the future, I’d love to see Light get more adventurous in exploring their black or doom elements rather than continuing to adhere tightly to their stylistic fusion. Perhaps because of this, the record never quite achieves the outright chilling atmosphere it seems to be going for, as much as the low ambient humming and creepy clean picking in aforementioned “Sacrum” try to conjure it. It’s only the wilting tritonic phrases and tortured moaning that close out “Lurid Hand” which really make me squirm.
That said, with an average runtime of six-and-a-half minutes, the songs are tightly written and packed with good ideas – in fact, the lead-work really only feels repetitive over the course of the album as a whole. While I can’t say it’s a year-end candidate, this is a strong and promising debut that crafts a truly unique sound and doesn’t contain a single weak track. If anyone ever wondered what Hooded Menace would sound like sped-up and with frequent, tendrily lead guitars, heed the call of the Crypt Keeper and follow Predatory Light into the darkness. For everyone else, give it a try, and decide for yourself.