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Crescent Shield is a fairly interesting phenomenon. Born as the side project between Dan DeLucie of Destiny's End and Michael Grant of Onward, the two quickly proved to be well-suited for each other's style, with Crescent Shield's first full-length, while inconsistent, was definitely better than anything either Destiny's End or Onward had released. 2009 saw the release of the second full-length, The Stars of Never Seen, which is both more ambitious and more consistent than the debut. This album is a true testament to the skill and ingenuity of both DeLucie and Grant, and the unequivocal chemistry between their two styles.
Michael Grant has always had an extremely distinctive voice; he sounds a bit like a deeper, more restrained, more serious version of Ozzy Osbourne, mixed with a touch of Helstar's James Rivera. Thankfully, however, Grant proves to be quite different from Rivera overall, as Destiny's End just wasn't particularly inspired, and Rivera, if anything, detracted from DeLucie's style despite his indisputable skill and charisma. DeLucie's style, though, is a bit more difficult to summarize. He employs galloping dual leads, but they sound nothing like NWOBHM; they're darker and more complex, and they change relatively often, making for mildly progressive song structures. Musically, the band sounds like late 80's Helstar mixed with Awaken-era Fates Warning, with a handful of modern influences present as well. Occasionally, there are other influences present; "The Bellman" and, to a lesser extent, "Lifespan" (as well as "The Path Once Chosen" from the debut) have some 70s pop/rock influence a la Boston, which is both strange and disgusting, as it completely destroys the dark speed/USPM sound DeLucie creates the rest of the time. If you're into that particular style, you may enjoy the aforementioned songs; otherwise, you'll want to avoid them.
The combination of Grant's and DeLucie's respective styles is a different beast altogether. Soaring and epic, dark and dissonant, aggressive yet atmospheric, it definitely creates a unique juxtaposition for the listener. DeLucie's style clearly has leanings more toward blue collar USPM, with a handful of speed thrown in, while Grant's operatic tone and heavy use of multi-tracking should sound more at home in one of the many Queensryche or Fates Warning clones (otherwise known as white collar USPM). However, despite their incompatibility on paper, the combination just fucking works.
The production here is crunchy and atmospheric, with the guitars and vocals sharing the spotlight; and luckily, they're both quite good most of the time. The bass isn't too audible, but the riffs are enough to melt your face off, so that's hardly much of a complaint, and the drums are strong without being tinny or annoying, hearkening back to the '80's (if the style wasn't already enough to do so). Other than the aforementioned "The Bellman" and "Lifespan" (which is decent rather than terrible, as it's more or less a cross between "The Bellman" and the style present on the rest of the album), the album is pretty damn consistent, with no songs falling short of great. Gone is the more straightforward, brighter, and more traditional atmosphere of the debut; Stars, true to its name, throws the listener deep into a dark, mystical abyss full of wonder and mystique. The album has an almost middle eastern feel to it at times, or perhaps it's just that I'm often reminded of the melody from the Spirit Temple in The Legend of Zelda: the Ocarina of Time (as a huge fan of that melody, this is definitely the highest of compliments).
There are some subtle differences in songs, as should be the case with a good album. Some songs ("Tides of Fire", "10,000 Midnights Ago", "The Grand Horizon", "My Anger") are more aggressive and a bit more straightforward, while others ("Under Cover of Shadows", "Temple of the Empty", "The Endurance") are longer, more progressive, and more atmospheric, with some excellent acoustic passages scattered throughout. Grant's multi-tracking is of particular note, as there are often two or even three separate melodies (and sometimes lyrical passages) running simultaneously. If you've yet to hear Crescent Shield, or have already heard the debut, and are a fan of classic USPM of any variety, definitely check this out, it's one of the very best PM albums of the 21st century.