Alchemy For The Dead by SpotlightsRelease date: April 28, 2023
Label: Ipecac Recordings
I like my guitars heavy, layered, distorted and LOUD. I also love great melodies. Let’s throw in some lovely tangential keyboards too. It so happens that Spotlights also love all of these things and their fourth album entitled Alchemy For The Dead contains them all. For this album the trio of Sarah Quintero (bass/vocals), Mario Quintero (guitar/vocals/keys) and Chris Enriquez (drums) decided to record the album in the basement of their Pittsburgh home. Mario undertook production duties and the results are once again, excellent. Spotlights are masters of their art when it comes to capturing guitar tones.
The theme of this album is death. But don’t let that defer you from listening to it. I’ve played it many times and only know this after reading the press release. As Mario explains “One of the major parts of our lives, is the fact we’re all going to die, most people are terrified of it, some people learn to look forward to it, and some see it as a way out of their misery. Various cultures view it differently. There isn’t necessarily a story to the album as a whole, but each song deals with the theme of death”. But the album isn’t a gloomy affair.
It begins with ‘Beyond The Broken Sky’, a moody opener that builds up the tension with thunderous drums and hefty guitars, the tones are the USP for Spotlights, as glorious as ever. In ‘The Alchemist’ a sampled beat creeps along under a throbbing hum of bass as Mario coos a tender melody. A perfectly pitched toy piano chimes adds a sweet warmth before the guitars blaze with a furious screech of feedback and layers of lovely fuzzy tones. ‘Sunset Burial’ kicks like a mule with a sudden switch between a gnarly bass groove and walloping guitars. Spotlights manage a rare trick of combining heavy instrumentation with Mario’s sweet tones and melodies. (Billy Corgan looks on enviously).
Chris gives the snare a vicious battering throughout the snappy ‘Algorithmic’ which features some outstanding icy keys over humungous guitars. This track really hits the spot combining metal and melody with consummate perfection. ‘False Gods’ features some superb saxophone (courtesy of Ben Opie) wailing over the swathes of crushing guitars and drums. Whilst this instrument is typically more suited to jazz it fits into this cacophony brilliantly. Mario bucks the sweet tones for some screams as the song ends in a flurry of noise. ‘Repeat The Silence’ has an insistent groove and choppy beat, elastic guitars warp for a kooky song that takes a marvellous turn when the ice-cream truck hook drops.
Spotlights have their own unique sound down to the magical tones that permeate their down tuned guitars as exemplified on ‘Ballad In The Mirror’. They add a lovely shimmering haze and are perfectly pitched in the mix, so they aren’t intrusive. ‘Crawling Toward The Light’ is a head down banger that drives along on a propulsive groove. The scathing yet wonderfully memorable keyboard melody is exceptional, arcing over the layers of distortion. It’s so good it essentially forms the chorus leaving Mario as merely support. After all the bluster and bang of the rest of the album, it seems a curious choice to finish the album with the acoustic ballad ‘Alchemy For The Dead’. They add a little experimentation with some flickering electronics. Finally Sarah’s bass adds a little volume, then there’s a screech of feedback as the heavy guitars and crashing drums drop for a climactic end.
Spotlights have achieved so much in their relatively short time together. Chino Moreno is a huge fan, being a member of the heavy guitars and sweet melody crew. Deftones invited them out on tour and Mike Patton’s Ipecac label signed them and kept them. Each album the band has released oozes quality and you know you’re going to be treated to some of the finest sounding heavy guitars on record. With Alchemy For The Dead, Spotlights have added another mighty fine album to an already outstanding collection.