Spotlights‘ music is remarkably beautiful for how heavy it is. The Brooklyn-based duo of Mario and Sarah Quintero, formerly of San Diego’s Sleep Lady, know their way around atmosphere and mood as well as they do riffs and rhythms, the mixture of which will likely draw comparisons to now-defunct atmospheric sludge kings Isis, whose Aaron Harris produced their latest album. Yet Spotlights isn’t a conventional metal band, nor a conventional band of any sort. For a duo, the Quinteros make some truly huge-sounding music, much of it crushing. There’s an ethereality and grace about it, however, which makes the ambitious expanse of Seismic consistently interesting throughout its hour-plus runtime.
Seismic is Spotlights’ second album, but it’s a significant step forward from their similarly great debut, Tidals. It’s a bit longer, for one, and it’s also the band’s first for Ipecac, thus opening up a larger platform for exposure. But it’s what they build on the foundation already laid down by their debut that makes Seismic a successful next chapter for the group. The opening title track invites the listener in, slowly, not so much offering the band’s most explosive or intense sounds, but rather some of their most mysteriously intriguing. It’s a big-sounding track, but it builds gradually, with haunting synthesizer sounds juxtaposed against a shoegazey fuzz. Only the weight of it feels like a metal track; the rest of it spreads out into other galaxies of sound entirely.
When Spotlights get to rocking, they don’t hold back. “Learn to Breathe” thumps with a low-end stoner rock groove, while Mario Quintero croons over the crunch with an effects-laden, slightly disorienting delivery. The juxtaposition of big guitars and distant vocals brings to mind Deftones at their most atmospheric, while the aptly-titled “Size of the Planet” recalls the moody space-age alt-rock of Failure. Many of the tracks here extend well beyond five minutes apiece, a couple even in the eights, but Spotlights are able to sustain an interesting atmosphere long enough to keep any one song from wearing out its welcome, even when sometimes it’s the atmosphere itself that holds some of these epic pieces together. Still, it’s a lot of fun when Spotlights edit things back a little bit and let the riffs speak the loudest, as they do on standout “Under the Earth,” one of the rare moments with some proper (and well earned) screaming.
The interesting trick about Seismic is that, for how wide and far it reaches, Spotlights never sacrifice anything in the way of accessibility. For what are ultimately some epic, space-age sludge metal tracks, these 11 songs are consistently melodic and frequently catchy. Yes, this is an ambitious album and a heavy one at that, but it doesn’t put up impossible barriers to clear for those not already indoctrinated into more esoteric or abrasive bands. Spotlights have a unique definition of heaviness, and it’s one that offers some interesting possibilities well beyond the already impressive results here.