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Shadows Fall
The War Within
August 2004
Released: 2004, Century Media
Rating: 4.8/5
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland

In what is sure to be one of the most talked about releases of 2004, Shadows Fall’s THE WAR WITHIN has big shoes to fill. THE ART OF BALANCE was a massive release two years ago and put Shadows Fall on the map with God Forbid, Lamb of God and Killswitch Engage as members of the New Wave of American Metal. Endless touring in support of the CD—the biggest selling in Century Media history—burrowed the band into the collective metal psyche and having seen them twice myself, I can attest to the charisma and energy that Shadows Fall possesses live. As part of last year’s Ozzfest trek, Shadows Fall was one of the breakout bands, so THE WAR WITHIN comes with high expectations. While this is in fact their fourth CD, many will look upon THE WAR WITHIN as their sophomore release due to the success of THE ART OF BALANCE. Judgments will be surely be passed whether or not Shadows Fall can measure up to the buzz they have created and the answer to those cynics is a resounding…YES! THE WAR WITHIN has taken the melody, brutality and technicality of THE ART OF BALANCE and built on it tenfold. Brian Fair’s vocal range seems to have improved a bit over the years and the Matt Bachand/Jonathan Donais guitar duo are riffing, shredding and dropping better solos than ever. The band’s oft-forgotten rhythm section also do a bang-up of keeping everything in place. The song structures are also better this time around, while Zeuss has once again provided the band with crystal clear sound.



The acoustic intro of “The Light That Blinds” allows the listener to get comfy before the shredding begins and the double bass of Jason Bittner seeps in. The band has always been known for their first-rate vocal harmonies and on tracks like “Enlightened By the Cold,” “Act of Contrition” and “What Drives the Weak,” they continue that trend. Fair is able to pull off a paint-peeling roar, but at the same time, he can also deliver an excellent clean vocal that when harmonized alongside Bachand and Donais, is pure heaven. The band has always dabbled in thrash and “Eternity is Within” is shredding gone mad. In fact, this could be Shadows Fall’s heaviest track to date. Bittner’s double bass goes at a mile a minute, while Fair screams and roars like he’s walking on hot coals. On the flipside, the band has always been able to write a catchy melody without forsaking heaviness and they are clearly getting better at it. On THE ART OF BALANCE, the band had three songs breakout on MTV and there are several found here that are set to do the same. Most glaringly, “What Drives the Weak,” “The Power of I and I” and “Ghosts of Past Failures” are hook-laden monsters that are certain to be live favorites. The band has occasionally been compared to Metallica and on “Inspiration on Demand,” Fair does a clean vocal during the slower verses that sounds eerily like James Hetfield during the beginning of “Fade to Black.”



THE WAR WITHIN is sure to be album of the year on many critics, mags and ‘zines lists and deservedly so. I hope Century Media is ready for the onslaught of attention that is sure to come because Shadows Fall have sculpted what could very well be the album that bridges the gap between mainstream success and underground acceptance. Heavy, yet melodic; raw, yet technical; polished, but not too slick. And at an all-too-brief 42 minutes, the band has left us wanting more. In other words, perfection.



KILLER KUTS: “The Light That Blinds,” “Act of Contrition,” What Drives the Weak,” “The Power of I and I,” “Eternity is Within”
Track Listing

1. The Light That Blinds
2. Enlightened By the Cold
3. Act of Contrition
4. What Drives the Weak
5. Stillness
6. Inspiration on Demand
7. The Power of I and I
8. Ghosts of Past Failures
9. Eternity Is Within
10. Those Who Cannot Speak

Lineup

Brian Fair—Vocals
Matthew Bachand—Guitar/Vocals
Jonathan Donais—Guitar
Paul Romanko—Bass
Jason Bittner—Drums


Next review: » Shadows Fall - The War Within
Previous review: » Shadows Fall - The Art of Touring: Drunk & Shitty In Every City (DVD)

Shadows Fall
The War Within
September 2004
Released: 2004, Century Media
Rating: 1.5/5
Reviewer: MetalGeorge

There is a disease infecting the underground metal scene as of late, and it's name, an acronym actually, is the New Wave of American Heavy Metal (NWOAHM). It annoys me to even type out that silly new phrase which has been coined as of late by hackneyed journalists looking to place yet another label on something.



Shadows Fall could be considered the forerunners and godfathers of this much lamented (by me, anyway) movement. First exploding out of the Massachusetts underground scene in 1997 with their self-released debut (entitled SOMBER EYES TO THE SKY), the once promising band has skyrocketed to the heights of fame on a sound that, at least in this reporter's opinion, is highly overrated.



I believe it was when former vocalist Phil LaBonte (now fronting Prosthetic Records artists All That Remains) exited the band that my taste on these local heroes (I live in Mass) started to run sour. While I will always give props to the technical skills and melodic chops of axemen Matt Bachand and Jonathan Donias, I was worried that the band's promise would be utterly destroyed if they were to invest in a vocalist who could not fill LaBonte's (no pun intended) shoes.



Enter Brian Fair. As the former vocalist of Mass hardcore act Overcast, he was the weak link in a band that was otherwise quite talented. Alas, it seems that some things never change, as the singer's sterile growls and hopelessly lost attempts at "clean singing" have led the band straight into the shitter, pardon my French.



In this case, I feel profanity is necessary in order to express my sheer rage at how so many metal fans, who seem to have a pair of ears attached to their head, can get into a band so horribly mediocre. Over the course of two full lengths (OF ONE BLOOD and THE ART OF BALANCE), Mr. Fair and crew have beaten the dead horse of "metalcore" into the ground with underdeveloped songwriting skills and unemotional, boring riffs/breakdowns.



Their newest platter, entitled THE WAR WITHIN, is probably the worst stab yet at Heavy Metal xerox that the band has released yet. Beyond the cliche album title and the "been there, done that" Gothencore stylings, THE WAR WITHIN is a paint-by-numbers release if there ever was one. Again, the saving grace of the band by far is the lead guitar tandem of Bachand/Donias. Both have skills far beyond many of their equally annoying contemporaries such as Chimaira, which is why is is so unsettling to see their obvious abilities being wasted on such an even more obviously weak act such as Shadows Fall.



On the subject of "abilities", I'm sure Brian Fair possesses many talents which I do not know about, but what I do know is that singing is not one of them. The man single-handedly ruins everything Shadows Fall wants to accomplish. When the music calls for melody, it falls flat on it's face when hit with Fair's ear grating warbling. When aggression is the key, it hits a roadblock when place next to Fair's yawn-inducing attempts at screaming.



It's obvious that the band is searching for memorability here. The problem is that it's just not there; neither in the vocals or the riffs. Guitar-wise, barring the solos, everything sounds very rushed and just "not there". Influence from such American Thrash bands such as Testament and Metallica is obvious, but the execution is simply so flawed and unmoving, I'm left screaming at the wall, wishing this band would either shit or get off the pot, so to speak.



The production isn't doing the band any favors either. Working again with the seemingly tone-deaf Zeuss /Planet Z studios, this is most definitely a sound that leans towards the hardcore spectrum things rather than the metal. The bass is too loud in the mix, leaving the guitar tone muffled and unable to leap out and grab the listener. This has always posed a problem to Shadows Fall, the guitars simply don't seem to be in the same league of importance as the vocals and the rhythm section, and for a metal band this is simply detrimental.



Even where THE WAR WITHIN works ("Stillness", "Ghosts of Past Failures", and most impressively on "Those Who Cannot Speak") it's still not enough to raise more than a curious eyebrow of this reviewer. Whereas bands like Killswitch Engage, Atreyu, and Lamb of God have managed to grudgingly win over even a 25 year old curmudgeon like myself, Shadows Fall will always be the band whose success I simply cannot fathom.



Chock full of cliches and failed attempts, Shadows Fall's THE WAR WITHIN is yet another clunker from a band that sadly has never made good on the promise they once displayed so long ago. A product of good management, good promotion, and most of all, good luck, Shadows Fall have made the leap from the underground into the mainstream metal arena. Just don't look for 'em in my CD player.--mg
Track Listing

1. The Light That Blinds
2. Enlightened By the Cold
3. Act of Contrition
4. What Drives the Weak
5. Stillness
6. Inspiration on Demand
7. The Power of I and I
8. Ghosts of Past Failures
9. Eternity is Within
10. Those Who Cannot Speak

Lineup

Brian Fair--vocals
Matthew Bachand--guitar/vocals
Jonathan Donias--lead guitar/vocals
Paul Romanko--bass
Jason Bittner--drums


Next review: » Shadows Fall - Threads of Life
Previous review: » Shadows Fall - The Art of Touring: Drunk & Shitty In Every City (DVD)





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