By Matt Albers
One of the first subgenre titles to spring out of the New Wave Of American Metal around the turn of the millennium was “metalcore.” While possibly still as vague of a style then as it is now, bands that were most successful at the beginning of this movement were roughly described as combining elements of thrash, death metal and even NWOBHM like epic guitar solos and double bass-driven drums with the chuggy, riff and breakdown-laden structure of hardcore. Complete with catchy choruses thanks to dual vocals of both screaming or growling and clean singing, this sound shot off quickly in the metal scene and eventually into active rock radio. Many bands either formed to replicate this sound or incorporated the styles and elements into their already existing music. While most of the smaller, less successful fad bands quickly died out with the rise in popularity of deathcore and djent, the most successful or iconic bands of this style continued to maintain a strong and increasingly diverse fan base.
Springfield, Massachusetts’ Shadows Fall was one of the first successful “metalcore” bands, originally featuring vocalist Phil Labonte, who would later quit the band and form All That Remains. Beginning with 2000’s Of One Blood, vocalist Brian Fair led the band through another four more albums and the band conjured up a following thanks to early touring by opening for renowned bands including Fear Factory, Cannibal Corpse, In Flames, Nevermore, Hatebreed, and eventually leading to possibly the band’s biggest break, opening for Slipknot. Success was amplified with achievements such as the inclusion of “The Light That Blinds” on the video game Guitar Hero II, performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in 2009, and even two Grammy nominations. Even with many of the members having various side projects, all five musicians continued to place Shadows Fall as a high priority, leading them to produce their seventh album, Fire From The Sky.
The album opens with its first single, “The Unknown,” which sets the tone for the very strong familiarity that the album ends up producing. While there’s nothing technically wrong with this song, it seems to be so reminiscent of the same first album single that Shadows Fall has released for the past few albums. The fast riffing, almost marching-style snare drums and dual vocals from both Fair and guitarist Matt Bachand sound eerily similar to “Still I Rise” from 2009’s Retribution and “Redemption” from 2007’s Threads Of Life. This song continues a now three-album long tradition of Shadows Fall releasing a very, VERY familiar first single, which may be an attempt for any band to hook old listeners after an extended absence of releasing any new material. Again, this is not to say that the song is at all bad, it’s just that it seems that Shadows Fall wrote and released this song because it followed the formula from the first single from each of their past two albums.
The rest of the album is a mixed bag of songs that are either very interesting or songs that are just OK. Musically, all the elements that make Shadows Fall who they are still remain: an overall thrash-influenced foundation with catchy groove and melody, as well as fun extended guitar solos from Jon Donias and impressively technical drumming from Jason Bittner. Songs with the most memorably melodic hooks seem to be “Divide And Conquer” and “Nothing Remains.” However, a good handful of the songs never quite hit and end up being forgettable. There are at least three songs that do stand out for their strong and unique structure, writing and musicianship. “The Wasteland” delivers an unrelenting pounding of heaviness and melody with a memorable guitar solo that most other songs on the album unfortunately do not match. The six and a half minute long epic “Blind Faith” opens with an acoustic guitar and leads you through a roller coaster of aggression and catchy clean singing. Finally, the album’s title track plays with the slow, ominous, gloomy groove of classic Floridian death metal.
Lyrically, this is easily the darkest and possibly most negative album Shadows Fall has ever released. The vast majority of their back catalogue featured lyrics derived from or inspired by the philosophies of Buddhism and Rastafarianism. With Fire From The Sky, themes of unity, strength and perseverance are almost completely replaced by an overlying theme of questioning existential possibilities; i.e. the prophecies and superstitions suggesting the world will end in 2012, the year this album is released (the album’s cover art also coincides with this theme). “The Wasteland” describes wondering alone and rebuilding after an apocalyptic event and the title track is a fictional narrative (very new territory for vocalist Brian Fair) of the notion of the earth being destroyed by an exploding star or supernova, in which Fair admitted in interviews was inspired by the visuals of Unicron destroying planets in the 1986 animated Transformers movie.
While not as epic, lyrics on other songs on Fire From The Sky are equally as dark. Some songs deal with social and life situations gone awry, such as “Nothing Remains” dealing with drug addiction and “Save Your Soul” simply about when people, for whatever reason, refuse to let things go and reconcile differences with one another. The most outstanding lyrics may come from the political “Blind Faith,” critiquing the system of American government and it’s relationship – or lack thereof – with the country’s citizens. Like “Fire From The Sky,” this concept is also new to Shadows Fall and vocalist Brian Fair. The presence of the new lyrical themes of the apocalypse and politics, both on an album released during a year in which both may be present in the minds of many people in this country and world, show that it also rests deeply on the creative minds as well.
If there’s one thing you can count on with Shadows Fall, is that the band will always sound like…well, Shadows Fall. At this point in their career, the fact that this band is still around proves that they have carved their niche into metal history. Still, Shadows Fall now seem to lie somewhere between sitting comfortably and going through the motions. Their past few albums have been overall strong fan-pleasers, as well as constantly eclectic enough to attract new listeners, but many of the songs included on them tend to run together with only a few that stick out as songs you’d want to go back and re-listen to. And Fire From The Sky might be the prime example of this for Shadows Fall, even more so than their previous two albums.
However, if there’s one redeeming factor to the release of Fire From The Sky, it’s that the special edition version makes the album even more desirable. A bonus DVD includes interviews with the band members and producer, friend and Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, as well as two bonus songs that rank up with, if not higher than, the best songs on the standard album. “Eternal Life” continues the angst and aggression from the album’s last track “The Wasteland,” and “A Death Worth Dying” is another Shadows Fall song that is so melodically catchy in its vocals and riffs, that it could even be describe as epic! Fire From The Sky may not be the perfect Shadows Fall album, but it is marketed perfectly. Fans desiring to obtain this record would benefit from picking up a physical CD copy rather than downloading it.
Final Score: 3.25 out of 5 (B-/B)
Recommended If You Like: Trivium, Killswitch Engage, As I Lay Dying, All That Remains, Anthrax