Shadows Fall - Threads of Life Review
by Mark Hensch
It is make-or-break time for Massachusetts metalheads Shadows Fall and their new album Threads of Life. Think of it like this; here is a band who built themselves up from nothing, forming in the mid-to-late 1990's and pulling themselves up to where they are through hard work and little else. The story should sound familiar to anyone who has seen a musical biography---tiny act starts off in a tiny town, relocates to a big city, and then plays shows constantly in an effort to gain success. Did they do things right?
From a business standpoint, the answer is a resounding yes. Perhaps at the risk of alienating their older fans, Shadows Fall won tons of critical acclaim with their stint on independent label Century Media and wisely used it to jump to Atlantic Records, a major imprint. From a musical standpoint, I think a lot of people will be surprised by what Threads of Life has to offer. The disc is straightforward, positive, and rip-roaringly fun, featuring a streamlined cohesion no previous Shadows Fall disc has held before. I can definitely see this being the band's "breakout" album if such a term really exists.
With Mastodon and Lamb of God both releasing punishing major-label efforts that still pushed each band's musical evelope, the heat has been on for Shadows Fall to keep up or be left out of the top-tier. To be honest, this disc has had me nervous; of the three, Shadows Fall runs the greatest risk of flirting with popular music and dilluting their sound for greater mainstream recognition. Always a group owing as much to ballsy cock rock as punishing heavy metal, there is a spirit of reckless youth and catchy melodicism here that a band like say Mastodon cannot and will not ever have. None of this is a bad thing, it just means that the Shads are having to work that much harder to maintain their well-earned underground music cred.
Thank God then that Threads of Life sees them doing just that with blazing and glorious aplomb. Opener and lead-single "Redemption" alone finds the band toying with their mix of pummeling death/thrash and glam/shred guitars. Cocksure riffs knife-fight with crushing double-bass and the hangnail hooks are easily as catchy as any older material. Frontman Brian Fair has really upped his vocals, mixing his trademark caustic bellows with masculine but emotive crooning. I've always liked how distinct the man's vocals are, but for the first time I like them just for the fact they sound excellent.
"Burning the Live" brings the world's most catchy asskicking to the table, meaty riffs throwing haymakers of hooky brawn at your face again and again. Some chilling tremolo picking adds further depth to the mix, the band's swelling catharsis being perfectly meshed with the song's later swinging beatdowns. I'd say the band has finally perfected their traditional tension between harmony and aggression on this cut.
"Stormwinds" marks the album's ascent into a frighteningly good tribute to ripping hard rock out of the 1980's. By now, all of the songs will still sound like vintage Shadows Fall, and yet there is this undercurrent of loose, reckless abandon to everything that owes as much to Dokken as it does At the Gates. It makes for an interesting effect, and "Stormwinds" showcases this fusion of ugly stomp and utterly bitching rock perfectly.
"Failure of the Devout" is this album's "The Idiot Box," and I think much like that song this is a personal favorite Shadows Fall song of mine. A meandering clean passage kicks things off, with the listener initally expecting a slower-song. The joke's on them then, as "Devout" is a thrashing behemoth of furious riffage and manic percussion. Any of the fairweather metal elitists looking to pretend they no longer like Shadows Fall after their "selling out" will easily be proven wrong by the sheer brutality on offer here. In an ominous moment, part of the song sees the Shads indulge in a wicked riff march omnious of oldschool (AKA good) Metallica breakdowns. I don't know how, but it sounds like the most natural thing in the world and definitely sees the band doing a much better job of making popular yet heavy metal; this just shreds and bludgeons straight up, but it could be on the radio too! It sounds like they've done what Trivium was trying to do with their annoying Crusade album, and made music that is both heavy and memorable. Great stuff!
"Venomous" has back-to-back gang vocals, bitching guitars, and lots of flair. If I had to point to a song that showed people that the Shads were weaned on old hard-rock, this is the one I'd do it on. The twinkling guitar bridges, the balls-to-the-wall choruses, the fiery leads; all of it is pure oldschool and these guys do it the best of anyone trying to bring it back. Seeing as how they busted this out on the last concert of theirs I attended, my guess is that this will be the second single off Threads of Life.
"Another Hero Lost" is tricky to properly review as it will undoubtedly piss a lot of people off. Clean, quiet, and organic guitar notes drift by as Brian Fair gives off his most stunningly intense vocal performance, all without a single growl. The guy really does have a strong voice, and this self-penned memorial tune to a relative killed in Iraq allows him to flex it to his full ability. As for the rest of the band, they churn out the best f***ing power ballad of the last decade as if it was the most simplistic feat in the world. I'm not sure if everyone will understand a song like this, but for those who can it is top-notch fare to be sure.
"Final Call" was touted as an "epic centerpiece" in the press-release with its 7-minute runtime. I love it, but it ain't epic by any means. The band do what they do best, and simply for a longer time---gripping clean vox, deep yet catchy guitars, pouding drums, the whole nine yards. A fluid ramble through shimmering and clean guitars leads into some fantastic leadwork, then one last portion of blue-collar asskicking metal.
"Dread Uprising" is another monster song that ups the intensity on the last portion of the album perfectly. The structure is nearly flawless, and absolutely face-melting string abuse later on would be a fantastic thing live. This is one of the most absurdly technical songs the band has ever penned, and a real joy to watch unfold.
"The Great Collapse" is a quick acoustic interlude that honestly could have been left off the CD (it doesn't really add anything) and follow-up "Just Another Nightmare" is a tad by-the-numbers too. There is some solid shredding here, and the vocals showcase a mix of harsher clarity mixed with outright crooning, but besides these elements things are a bit tired. "Forevermore" gains some momentum back, its galloping guitar blitzkriegs and massive fury closing the disc with a mighty bang. Despite the fact the end of the disc is a little formulaic in parts, this is still strong music overall!
Threads of Life is the rare musical achievement that combines honest integrity, violent brutality, and memorable songwriting all in a single package. For the last couple of years many have hailed Shadows Fall as the best American metal act, and with this disc, the band seems poised to regain that initial acclaim. Though times and trends may change, there is no denying this for what it is; Threads of Life is heavy metal fun turned to a brutal artform, the sort of joy one finds in a Fight Club or a mosh pit....it comes highly recommended. and my guess is we will be hearing about this one for years to come.
2. Burning the Live
4. Failure of the Devout
6. Another Hero Lost
7. Final Call
8. Dread Uprising
9. The Great Collapse
10. Just Another Nightmare
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Shadows Fall - Threads of Life
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