Shadows Fall
Fire From the Sky

About ten years back, I was just starting to test the waters of extreme metal. Shadows Fall was one of the very first bands that was decidedly outside of my norm. I think what drew me to them the most was the thrashiness of the riffs and music, as I had already been a long time fan of the likes of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, etc. It was the vocals that were the point of contention for me when it came to more extreme sounds. Shadows Fall effectively smashed that boundary for me and opened the gates to a whole new world of music to explore.

The Art of Balance was a landmark album for me – an all time fave to this day – and closely followed by The War Within. Heavy, fast and furious, though still loaded with hooks. As I began to delve deeper into extreme metal, Shadows Fall began to branch out into more mainstream territory, alienating me as a result. Threads of Life was hugely disappointing, and follow up Retribution wasn’t too much terribly better, leaving me yearning for the boys to return to their heavier and thrashier sounds of yore.

That brings us to now, and new platter o’ tunes Fire From the Sky. The first couple songs I heard had me thinking “awesome! They’re back!”, but after just a couple spins of this new disc, I realized nothing much has changed – they’re still trying desperately to balance a desire to please old fans while still pushing for mainstream acceptance with clean vocal chorus’ and hooks. It turns into a big ol’ bag of mixed feelings.

On one hand, most of the music is pretty awesome – good and thrashy, hard hitting stuff with the same phenomenal lead work we’ve come to expect from them, and Brian Fair’s monstrous bark is still as potent as ever. On the other hand, there is still way too many clean vocals contributed from Jon and Matt – a song will be riffing out and kicking ass, then the chorus comes along and makes things all poppy, which in turn makes my raging metal hard-on go soft in about .2 seconds (album opener “The Unknown”, “Divide and Conquer”, “Nothing Remains”, pseudo mini-epic “Blind Faith”, “Lost Within”). “Walk the Edge” is absolutely horrid. It uses clean vocals in the verses and is cringe inducing. Holy fuck, I never want to hear that again. The one time their clean vocal interlude truly works is in “Save Your Soul”. For whatever reason, it didn’t come across as super poppy. Maybe I’m just ate up. I dunno.

“The Unknown” does experiment with just a touch of something new – the chorus has some very atmospheric stuff going on. That word – “atmospheric” – has never been a word I would’ve used in the past to describe SF. An interesting inclusion for sure. Of course, the song also has some scorching solo action, but ultimately is mostly ruined by the clean vocal driven chorus.

On the bright side (or the dark side, I guess depending on your point of view, haha) they leave the clean vocals behind and just shoot it straight on “Weight of the World”, the title track, and album closer “The Wasteland” and are better for it. Actually that’s a lie – “The Wasteland” does feature some clean vocals, but it’s limited and non-annoying. It’s unfortunately not enough to truly save the album from half-hearted mediocrity though, which is a shame considering just how much I know these dudes can bring it and bring it hard.

So, to recap: music is mostly killer, loaded with awesome riffs, solos and drum work. Has a strong, clear production but is ultimately ruined by the use of shitty clean vocals. Better luck next time boys. As always, I’ll be waiting with eager and hopeful anticipation.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Larry "Staylow" Owens
September 10th, 2012

Comments

  1. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    isn’t it funny how eventually, clean vocals, which are what nonmetal people want in metal, become this thing that fans don’t want at all?


  2. Commented by: Staylow

    It depends. I do like clean vocals – it’s all in the approach and how they sound. In this case here, they sound very whiny and shitty nine times out of ten. But, the approach of someone like Dickinson, Halford, Cam Pipes from 3IoB or that new guy in Accept – that’s alright. Just don’t sound like a bitch when you’re doing it is what I’m getting at.


  3. Commented by: Fred Phillips

    Wow. I had a completely different take on this. For me, it’s the best thing they’ve done since Art of Balance. It was Fair’s vocals that kind of turned me off on The War Within. I thought they were really monotonous and brought down some songs that were pretty good musically. Of course, that’s the same reason I don’t listen to hardcore. Usually sounds to me like the guys are barking the same vocal line on every song.


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