Alchemy as a concept has been surrounded by intrigue throughout the ages and across continents. Forming something of far greater appeal and value from everyday objects is a tempting pursuit indeed, and Spotlights‘ latest album does exactly this: Alchemy For The Dead sees the New York trio use the voices and instruments at their disposal to conjure a crushing, potent blend of ethereal doom that serves as a marked summit in the band’s career so far.
The venture is spearheaded by spouses Sarah (bass/guitar/vocals) and Mario Quintero (guitar/synths/vocals), with the trifecta of tumultuous sound completed by the pounding drumwork of Chris Enriquez. 2016’s debut full-length Tidals certainly made waves upon arrival, and subsequent releases compounded on this, growing their fanbase further still and earning Spotlights opportunities to tour with the likes of Pallbearer, Deftones, and The Melvins. Now, the band’s penchant for transforming ideas into sonic gold has delivered another successive record of thunderous music; let’s delve in and explore why…
Content warning: The following video contains flashing images.
The palpable atmosphere created on Alchemy For The Dead is not only instantly apparent, but key to its appeal and truly a force to be reckoned with – thanks in no small part to the work put in behind the desk. An absolutely crushing mix collaborates with equally hefty instrumentals right the way through to ensure that every song possesses sufficiently inescapable weight. The album also infuses a heightened sense of melody but make no mistake: these three have composed yet another absolutely mountainous slab of sound. Whether in the pits of dissonance or the more outward-reaching, shoegaze-like qualities of its composition, they join to exude music of disarming density with aplomb.
Vocal duties are shared pretty evenly by each Quintero across Alchemy For The Dead, with Mario and Sarah’s respective ranges mingling brilliantly to lend the album a dusky beauty. It’s not an element that catches you off guard as such, but instead renders you blissfully helpless to the depths that Spotlights plunge you down to – depths that only increase as the album progresses. Although “Beyond The Broken Sky” makes for a somewhat understated beginning with its brooding synths, but it isn’t long before the boom of drums implies that something more menacing is clearly at work and we’re hauled below the safety of the surface.
From start to finish, this audial abyss is driven, in many instances, by destructively gargantuan bass. Never an afterthought, the low end of the record grounds the entire outing in a dense coat of murk, constricting most songs to the malevolent, lumbering style you hear. Tracks rarely seem in any hurry, never wishing to race towards their climactic end; this suits me just fine as I shared the same desire as a listener. Moreover, while the likes of “The Alchemist” and “Ballad In The Mirror” showcase that sludgy, doom-laden texture perfectly and made me reminisce fondly on O’Brother’s You and I, there are moments in the record’s latter half where punches of pace are injected. “Crawling Toward the Light” is a great example of how Spotlights are able to unleash bursts of energy even amidst the thick consistency of an almost overwhelming resonant low end that binds every other component together.
Alongside those rumbling basslines and foreboding, melancholic vocals are tastefully employed drums – enhancing the character of all this cavernous noise rather than simply making proceedings more boisterous in volume. Don’t get me wrong, tracks such as “False Gods” utilise Enriquez’s power to great effect in kicking loudness up a notch, but the more restrained and deliberate kit work of “Sunset Burial”, for example, illustrates during its six-plus minutes why dynamics are so crucial to crafting attention-grabbing music that sustains interest – particularly when your opted mantra with each record is ‘don’t do the same thing again‘.
It would also be foolish to heap such praise upon Alchemy For The Dead without acknowledging the hulking guitar and deft synth work. With such robust foundations underpinning this mammoth of an LP, the broader expanse of sound produced by Spotlights is filled out extensively by the midriff of their music. Whether it’s the shimmering guitar notes that interject the meaty chords of “Algorithmic” or uncharacteristically peaceful acoustic plucks on the closing title track, the guitar parts enrich the overall experience and provide sufficient crunch to rattle teeth. Meanwhile, synths never detract from the metallic roots of Spotlights‘ sound, but rather magnify that tangible atmospheric gloom I spoke of earlier.
Ultimately, the more Spotlights draw you in, the more obvious it becomes that they have an innate ability to construct ominous, impenetrable soundscapes, often from a central riff or passage that remains the driving force of the track. Each song therefore hits with devastating impact, subduing without mercy and ingraining itself in the memory as it pulls you into its sunless recesses. I genuinely struggle to find fault with the record given that its shadiest, plodding moments of doom are just as engaging and fervour-inducing as its more spacious songs. It’s brimming with latent fury, and although specks of illumination are elusive as shadowy walls of distortion close around you, you’re left enlightened and in awe of the behemoth as a whole – enchanted by such a dark and deafening entity.
With Alchemy For The Dead, Spotlights have yet again shown their capability for concocting the perfect blend of dissonant dirge and elegant solemnity. In fact, alchemy’s historical associations with elixirs to prolong lifespan are just as relevant as my opening comparison. Why? Because Spotlights lure you in from the very start and never loosen grip once they have you. The deeper you’re led into Alchemy For The Dead, the more it consumes you, and – like the indefinite effect of those coveted elixirs – you’ll crave that voyage time and time again.