Released: 2007, Atlantic Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Shadows Fall have always been a little too metal for the hardcore crowd and a little too hardcore for the metal crowd. Yet, the Massachusetts band developed a substantial fanbase and still boast the two biggest-selling albums in Century Media Records history with 2002’s THE ART OF BALANCE and 2004’s THE WAR WITHIN. Many will argue the band’s defining moment is still 2000’s less-polished OF ONE BLOOD but having refined their sound into a slicker and tighter unit over those two albums, Shadows Fall were granted the opportunity to leave the indie market and signed a deal with a major label, Atlantic Records, for their new album, THREADS OF LIFE. Naturally, cries of “sell out” echoed through the metal community and bringing in producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Velvet Revolver, Stone Sour) certainly didn’t help silence the band’s detractors, either (self-proclaimed “sixth member,” Zeuss, has been retained for mixing duties). On THREADS OF LIFE, Brian Fair’s vocals have become substantially clearer and he is also stretching himself with a broader range that focuses less on screaming. Jonathan Donais’ guitar solos and squeals are everywhere here and along with Matt Bachand’s riffs, the two axemen have never sounded better. Even the rhythm section of Paul Romanko and Jason Bittner are given dutiful positions in the mix with heavy, crunching grooves and beats. While THREADS OF LIFE may be under a different label, Shadows Fall have clearly not forgotten what it was that got them there in the first place. The album is a well-crafted progression of the band’s sound that has kept prior elements intact but refined them into a stronger, more developed machine.
Opening track “Redemption” is easily the most hook-filled track Shadows Fall has ever penned. The chorus grabs the listener immediately with Fair’s soaring, buttery-smooth clean vocal and Bachand’s subtle riff. Bittner’s double bass crushes in the verses and a double-tracked solo from Donais really sizzles. The mid-tempo “Storm Winds” is another scorcher but the slow-building “Failure of The Devout” will have fans of the band’s older material grinning from ear to ear with blazing thrash riffs, a killer solo and pit-worthy aggression that is a surefire addition to Shadows Fall’s live set. On the other hand, the haunting ballad “Another Hero Lost” (an ode to Fair’s cousin who was killed in the Iraq war) may be a tough sell but Fair gives the performance of a lifetime here, demonstrating a range he had only previously hinted at. Likewise, the epic “Final Call” is a mix of vocal styles that Fair has been leading up to since OF ONE BLOOD. A tranquil lead-in to Donais’ screaming solo gives the listener a false sense of ease before the guitarist unleashes a white-hot burner. At the other end of the scale, “The Great Collapse” showcases the skill of Bachand and Donais in a stunning, moody instrumental before a speedy, shredding solo punctuates “Just Another Nightmare.” Album closer “Forevermore” is a tip of the hat to the band’s classic thrash influences as a circle-pit worthy tempo drives the song with help from Bittner’s flawless double bass execution and a meaty bass line from Romanko.
For whatever reason, many people cannot get past the fact that Shadows Fall has augmented the raw sound of OF ONE BLOOD and chosen to stretch as musicians. For them, THREADS OF LIFE will not change any minds but for those that have followed and progressed with the band will see the new album as a brilliant extension of the sound crafted on THE ART OF BALANCE and THE WAR WITHIN. The guitars are more technically adept and inspiring, Fair’s multi-tracked vocals benefit from the loftier budget and the rhythm section simply crushes. With the ballad excepted, call this a “safe album” because although the move from Century Media to Atlantic is a big one, the band has not changed drastically over their previous two albums but rather honed and refined the infrastructure that already existed. Chances are the band’s existing fanbase will make the move with them but THREADS OF LIFE is strong enough to bring in a whole lot more.
KILLER KUTS: “Redemption,” “Storm Winds,” “Failure of The Devout,” “Final Call,” “Just Another Nightmare,” “Forevermore”