2007 saw Shadows Fall release their major label debut, Threads of Life, on Atlantic Records. It was a solid album that had some great tunes and showed another evolution in the band from 2004's The War Within (and its leftovers collection, Fallout from the War). I am not saying it is a better album, the newer album may even have played a bit safe considering the new home, but there is no denying the album was filled with quality music. Something must have happened in between the release of Threads of Life and now as Retribution is being released through Everblack Industries. I am not sure what happened there, but I can hope that the change allows them to retain artistic integrity and benefits them in their endeavors.
I took me awhile to warm up to Shadows Fall after picking up Of One Blood back in the day and not particularly caring for it. Of course, I have since revisited it and like it considerably more now than then, yet it remains on the lower end of their discography. It was actually Fallout from the War that won me back over. I gave them a second chance and found a lot to like in this immensely talented quintet. From the vocals of Brian Fair to the great leads from Jonathan Donais, to the fantastic drumming from Jason Bittner, there is no shortage of skill here.
Retribution opens with a brief instrumental called "The Path to Imminent Ruin." Running a little past the one minute mark, the acoustic driven track is something new for the band. Never before have they opened with instrumental filler. Sure, there was "Pain Glass Vision" on Of One Blood, but that was more industrial noise build up to start the album. This sort of thing is nothing new, but it adds another dimension to the band. It allows Jon Donais to show off his acoustic skills, and it is pretty good piece of music, simultaneously light and ominous. It launches directly into the speed of "My Demise."
"My Demise" proves to be a pretty heavy number with persistent drums, guitars that surge forward and an intense vocal delivery. These elements combine in a way that gives the song a raw, urgent feel, as if they feel the need to prove something. There seems to be some sentiment among the online community that they lost a little something on Threads of Life. I did not see it, but I guess it could be there, after all, I am sure they wanted to prove themselves to the label and I am also sure that the label wanted to have a say in the band's direction. Hmmm, perhaps that is why they parted ways?
In any case, the drive, persistence, and urgency carries right into "Still I Rise," which also happens to be the lead single and video for Retribution. This song starts full steam ahead and does not want to let go. The opening seconds are a cacophony of drums and guitars before breaking down into a riff of muted arpeggios (I apologize if the term is wrong, but that is what it sounds like), all building into the main bulk of the song.
Through these first couple of songs and then "War" and "King of Nothing," it is easy to see that the band seems to be reinvigorated. The sound is a cross between The War Within and Threads of Life. It has an aggression and power like the former, with the musical evolution and production values of the latter. Once started, there is no slowing down.
Retribution may not be the most inventive of titles, but it does seem fitting for the musical display. I am a fan of the last album, but upon going back to listen to it, The War Within, and Retribution, it is apparent that there may have been a loss of edge to it, and the guys seem intent on proving they still have it. In a way, I think that Killswitch Engage had a similar issue following As Daylight Dies (another album I am a big fan of).
Shadows Fall fans, do not fret, behind the cliched title lies a collection of heavy, in your face songs in the classic Shadows Fall tradition. This is the creation of a band possessed and while it may not be groundbreaking, it is beyond solid. It is an album that you will want to play and turn up loud.
Brian Fair does not quite scream like he did on the early records, but his voice may be getting better. His singing ability continues to improve and he can still growl with the best of them. Jon Donais and Matt Bachand deliver some great riffs while Donais contributes strong solo work. Meanwhile, bassist Paul Romanko and drummer Jason Bittner keep everything moving. In particular, Jason Bittner still has some of the best double bass I have heard and always keeps it interesting with his fills and rolls.
Songs to pay attention to: "My Demise," "King of Nothing," "A Public Execution," and "Dead and Gone."
Bottomline. This is an album you are going to want to have. It is pure metalcore. The band is in top form, ready to go, and destined to explode. Hopefully, they will come back to town, I would love to see them (they were scheduled once a couple of years ago, but got canceled due to low ticket sales! Unbelievable). Anyway, this is a very good release that shows this band always getting better in some way.