Spotlights : Alchemy for the Dead

Spotlights Alchemy for the Dead review

Searching for a band with songs that hit all the right places in your soul once required listening to college radio, combing through bins of records and reading zines like Maximum Rock N Roll. If this is a familiar experience for you, the new album by Spotlights will take you back to that era of Saturday afternoons spent driving from record store to record store to be rewarded by the odd sonic wonderland this trio occupies. Alchemy for the Dead marks the continued evolution from sludge-gaze to a more post-hardcore flavored strain of heavy rock. They retain the ominous punches of sludge, offset by a surreal tension. Their songwriting takes another step in a more melodic direction without compromising the drive of the songs. 

Songs like “The Alchemist” display the benefits of the album’s more refined production, allowing Spotlights’ experimentation to pay off with an electronic sound dialed into the drums. The stellar mix places each instrument in a space that brings the maximum value to their sound. This attention to detail is even more noticeable when the dynamics shift with the more atmospheric verses of “Sunset Burial.” The vocals get a proper platform, with the space to fully emote. The closest aural zip code to place them near might be Failure given the penchant for the loud to soft alt rock dynamic of the ’90s coloring the songs. This aesthetic is even more  pronounced on “Algorithmic.” Fuzzed-out guitars add the needed heft to balance out the introspective melodies. 

“False Gods” offers up something closer to a more conventional rock feel, as the beefier guitar grants them a heftier edge. The sax that wails out into the song is a nice touch as well. An odd time-signature groove moves “Repeat the Silence,” while the vocals coast right over it. “Ballad in the Mirror” works off the stomp of guitars, with softer vocal textures bringing the calm in the storm to create a sense of balance. Fans of the Deftones’ post-White Pony records will likely also appreciate what Spotlights are doing. No real overt metal, but a stormy moodiness that hangs over everything. A thicker, woozy shoegaze ambiance permeates “Crawling Toward the Light,” and the ring of its melody has a romantic cadence that flows through its druggy lethargy before exploding into a yelled vocal. And the closing title track is a fragile ballad, laying the vocals bare with a folk-like minimalism until the other instrumentation converges upon in the more dramatic  final moments.

Alchemy for the Dead is one of the strongest rock records from the first half of 2023, and further listens only reveal greater depth, as the shadows of its mood sink deeper. A well-rounded album that not only seeks to perfect a sound, it places the importance on the songs themselves, which rather than work off uniformity offer a diverse range of dynamics and stylistic choices. While it’s easy to drift off into nostalgia about an earlier era of musical discover, those fixated on the good old days are obviously not looking hard enough, as this record more than holds up against the classics of the ’90s. 

Label: Ipecac

Year: 2023

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