Last year, Seattle’s Predatory Light released their first offering, a two-song EP called MMXIV—and what a first offering it was. With just two songs totaling not-quite-18 minutes, the band made a definitive and promising statement about what their particular brand of blackened doom was going to sound like. Horns Up wasn’t even around at the time of MMXIV‘s original cassette/digital release, but since the EP was just recently re-released on vinyl via Pesanta Urfolk, let’s take a look back and see what’s at play here.
There’s a ton of blackened-sludge-doom floating around these days, from the vitriolic spew of Coffinworm to Inter Arma’s expansive, sublime compositions. Predatory Light has their own corner, one that draws from other atmospheric West Coast black metal bands—think Fell Voices or Ash Borer but with a slowed-down and growled edge to them.
On the EP’s first track, “Changing Skins,” the band’s ability to weave together elements of black metal and doom metal creates tension and release. The song is a well-thought-out journey that starts with a bare-bones guitar introduction, before adding a slower and heavier guitar part as the song unfolds. It’s all accented by vocals that sound like someone howling into the void, adding texture more than anything else. The song increases in intensity as it moves forward. One guitar takes on a more pronounced, rumbling, low-end sound as the other incorporates tremolo picking. It’s a compact, cohesive journey—from build-up, to climax, to resolution. The drums are crucial to the way the song develops, with each shift in mood reflected in the ferocity with which drummer Nate Myers smashes his cymbals and blasts his beats.
MMXIV’s second track, “Spiritual Flesh,” has a similar structure to its predecessor. The band spends a longer time on an atmospheric introduction and a sludgy buildup to the song’s blackened middle section, as well as a longer time on the outro. But as with “Changing Skins,” the song evolves so smoothly from one section to the other that the shifts in tempo are almost imperceptible until you’re right in the middle of them. It lends the listener the feeling of being lost in the album, swallowed up into whatever icy, swirling hell is depicted on its cover.
I’m listening to this EP during the first thunderstorm of the spring. Even though black metal is supposed to remind me of blizzards and ice, this particular kind of stormy weather is definitely fitting for MMXIV. The introductions to each song recall the sense of foreboding beforehand, the passion and abandon in the drums is like thunder and the tremolo guitar and growling vocals like swirling rain. And it’s suddenly all over, and we’re waiting for the clouds to recede. Even though 18 short minutes barely gives us time to get to know Predatory Light, on MMXIV there’s already ample evidence of thoughtful songwriting and musical ability. Those two qualities alone are enough to anticipate whatever longer releases the band has planned for the future.