Released: 2004, Century Media
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