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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Shadows Fall

The Art of Balance

Review by Mike Korn

In the zine biz, you hear a lot about bands who are supposed to be the "future of heavy metal". If I had a buck for every time I heard that, I could buy myself my own harem of Japanese geisha girls. But sometimes, it does happen that way and Shadows Fall is happily one of those occasions. Along with Nevermore, these guys are fast emerging as Kings of the American metal scene. "The Art of Balance" is a great second album for them, so thoroughly metal that it brings a lump to my throat. The songs are still complex but lack the angular jerkiness of their debut. It's a cheerful mixture of classic thrash riffing, speed metal melody and hardcore anger in equal measure, chock full of beautiful lead guitar soloing recalling the classic days of Megadeth. Plenty of chugga-chugga thrash picking reminds the listener of Metallica back in the days when they could actually play thrash instead of bashing out muddy noise. Vocalist Brian Fair veers from harsh angry shouts to appealing clean vocals to deathly growling with nary a hairy moment...a pleasure to hear.

Top tracks? "Mystery of One Spirit" is great melodic speed metal reminiscent of prime In Flames, the title track is a fine ballad in old Metallica tradition, opener "Idle Hands" chugs out with brawny force, but the cake is taken by "Stepping Outside the Circle"...simply brilliant, with a killer guitar/vocal hook on the chorus that brings joy to the ears of this old metal dog. Hell, the whole record rocks, even the cover of Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine", where Fair sounds uncannily like Roger Waters!

Yes, sometimes the hype is right. Grab on to Shadows Fall now and prepare for the next wave of American metal.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Idle Hands
A high velocity drum roll, a classic chugging thrash motif and a deathly growl announce the presence of Shadows Fall. This is a sprightly thrash track nodding to classic Metallica and Megadeth but showing plenty of S.F.'s own touches. Vocalist Brian Fair really shows his versatility, veering from death growls to angry hardcore shouts to more melodic (but still angry) singing.
Thoughts Without Words
The double bass drumming propels this one along in fast and furious fashion, as Fair again switches between harsh vocals and a pleasant clean touch on the song's excellent and catchy chorus. The mid-section slows down with a heavy, almost bluesy break before returning to the original theme, setting the scene for some fiery guitar soloing.
Destroyer of Senses
The undulating riff here has a solid hardcore crunch and the whole tune is more reminiscent of modern hardcore than classic thrash. This one's short and punchy.
Casting Shade
A haunting acoustic instrumental, this really reminds me of old Metallica and the kind of intros they did for songs like "Sanitarium" and "One".
Stepping Outside the Circle
This is the album's best track! I love the old style thrashing Maiden-on-speed riff that kicks this off, but really the song covers so many strong hooks that it is a small album in itself. The predominant feeling is thrashy but there's some great melodic lead guitar work and that chorus with its contrast of clean melodies and shouted backing vocals is just awesome! This is some great songwriting! The lead guitar solo is so purely metal that it causes my toes to curl in glee!
The Art of Balance
This one starts with a slower, smoldering feel and metamorphoses into a powerful semi-ballad. Again, the ghosts of old Metallica are invoked and Fair's clean vocals are even reminiscent of young Hetfield, back in the days when he could actually sing. The pace is generally slow but the chorus is dead heavy. It's a mournful sounding tune.

The Mystery of One Spirit
Anybody who digs the Gothenburg-styled death metal of In Flames or Dark Tranquility will enjoy this. The speedy but heavily melodic opening thrust stands right with those bands, and twin harmony leads rear their heads frequently here. The dreamy mellow break in the middle catches one by surprise but soon gives way to more tasteful guitar licks.
The Idiot Box
I found this to be a little on the average side, lacking the memorable melodies and quirkiness of the other tracks. It's heavy and chugging but seems like an afterthought when compared to the preceding tracks.
Prelude to Disaster
Another light instrumental reminiscent of elder Metallica, this has classical acoustic picked daintily over the sounds of a crackling fire.

A Fire In Babylon
 This lengthy epic sees Shadows Fall indulging in many different area of metal, starting with a slow build-up of layered guitars segueing into a deliberately paced riff and Fair's pained sounding vocals. This has the quirkiness that once typified Megadeth, though it does not sound blatantly like them. I totally love the huge, expansive feeling on the chorus, which burns itself indelibly into your brain. Quite an excellent track, pretty much summing up the abilities and approach of the band.

Welcome to The Machine
This is a cool cover of the Pink Floyd classic, given a pounding metallic flavor but completely recognizable. Brian Fair's uncanny resemblance to Roger Waters on vocals will have many goggling in disbelief...this is an amazing mimicry. I was surprised by the inclusion of strong synth tones on the track, showing Shadows Fall can definitely stretch their wings when so inclined.

 
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