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Straight off the bat, let me talk a little about the circumstances behind this EP/album (it clocks in at 25 minutes, which allows the grind fanatic part of me to write it off as an excessively long release). Its a charity release with the money being donated to no-kill animal shelters. The concept of the album? The artists wife being a serial killer. Kind of a mixed message there, one that'd leave most guys sleeping on the couch for the foreseeable future. Which might be a short future if she's been getting any inspiration from the lyrics.
With that put aside, lets talk music. OASR play some pretty decent death metal. Its not quite any of the regular schools out there, but its not really pushing a great deal of boundaries either. What we have here is some thrashy, vaguely blackened DM with a very digital sound and a base of riffage that sounds an awful lot like modernised melodeath minus the excessive harmonising. Not exactly something I've heard a lot of in my time.
The digital tone is my main gripe with this release. You wouldn't mistake it for the complete digitisation that infests the interminable bedroom goregrind and black metal projects floating around but its definitely got that 'one man and his line-in jack' feel to it. Which isn't limited to just the guitar. The drums are clicky and mechanical with watery cymbal work and the vocals have quite a bit of distortion and reverb on them. I presume the bass has the same, its not very prominent in the mix and honestly I can't actually remember it doing much aside from shadowing the guitar lines and it has a limited presence even then. Normally, this overly digitised production gets under my skin but the consistency saves things here. Everything has the same slightly rough, reedy electronic edge to it and somehow that actually manages to tie the whole thing together rather well. Perhaps a more organic sound would have worked better, but I can't hold much against the end result.
The songwriting is rather modern-sounding as well. Lots of thrash breaks with a touch of -core to them, a few staccato chugs and a mid to high tempo riff backbone that really does remind me of a thrashier take on melodeath - if someone had broken the lead guitarists hand before he made it into the studio. Nice experiment with some real headbanging moments but the riffs frequently feel like they could use some embellishment, more counterpoints or subdued leads (as opposed to the bursts of noisy soloing that crop up from time to time). They're a bit bare-bones and not quite up to holding the song together with no support. Drumming is stock standard with thrash beats, double bass and the odd blast. Very clinical and precise, I'd presume its either triggered to hell or a drum machine. Which isn't a problem – it fits with the overall sound and is competently done either way. Just doesn't do a whole lot to stand out.
Vocals, well those are both more and less modern than the rest of the package. They generally avoid the low end of the DM register, mostly wandering between a kind of moderate gothenburg style bark to some half-growl half-shouts and off into old black/thrash snarling at times. All loaded with reverb and distortion. None of them really stand out in terms of range,enunciation or whatever but they're all professionally done. No cracking screams or fuzzed out 'growls' here. Lyrically its a strong effort as well. There's no overt stupidity or screwing up of gore terminology (pet peeve of mine) and that’s really all I demand of my death metal. Holding together as a reasonably coherent concept album is a cool bonus - we don't spin these CDs for their deep insight into the human condition.
Overall its a solid release. A little different from the usual fare without breaking any new ground. Quality enough to be a fun spin from time to time but its not anything I'd leave on repeat or spend much time lusting after.
Only a Shadow Remains is a one-man band, helmed and operated by Armon Nicholson. Based out of California, Nicholson formed the band in 2009 and recently released his second EP – a short but succulent twenty-five minute record known as Premeditated. Nicholson’s genre of choice happens to be a lovely mix of death metal instrumentation and blackened vocals, which results in quite the listening experience for people like you and I. His drumming fits like a glove, the guitar lines are designed to boost the sound above and beyond what it would be otherwise, and the best part is – I shit you not – the execution is spot on. I’d see him live, but we all know how that’d turn out. That’s right; live musicians. Ew.
Premeditated is a concept album about Nicholson’s wife being a serial killer, and his vocals have a raw edge that really adds to that theme. The low vocals that come out more often than not are very reminiscent of bands like Goatwhore, while keeping to their own kind of energy. The blackened highs, however, have such power and force behind them that really sets them on another level entirely. The vocals on Premeditated help dictate how the other instruments build the song structure, which cements them firmly as the centerpiece of this record. That’s exactly where they should be, too – they lead the sound in sheer power, and that’s what works for Nicholson.
As for the guitarwork, there’s a bit more room for improvement. I feel that the longer you listen to Premeditated, the more and more sophisticated Nicholson’s guitarwork gets. That’s no mental trickery, either; there are a slew of leads in some of the later songs, and you can really tell how it improves the flow of those tracks. That’s not to say there’s no allure in the early tracks – there is. It might not be as palpable, but aside from when the guitar lines involve a lot of dirty and chunky repetition, you can easily tell Nicholson has a fair amount of skill in the guitar department. He hasn’t shown off anything of a virtuoso’s level, but there are some enjoyable leads that do a lot to help listeners tell which track is which.
The drumwork is very solid on this album, despite not being on the same level as the vocals or guitars in the mixing. It’s especially effective in setting the pace; if the drums of a song start out slow, like on “Halls of Gore”, you probably aren’t going to hear a sudden explosion or a skyrocketing BPM. The same is true for mid-paced and fast-paced tracks. The drums are the pacemaker, and that’s nothing out of the ordinary – but it works. What the drums are comprised of varies from track to track, but you can expect a fair amount of bass peddle action, as well as a helluva lot of blast beats when you hit the final track on the record.
When it comes right down to it, Nicholson delivers a very fun listen with Only a Shadow Remains’ Premeditated. It’s a short record that isn’t terribly focused musically, but has an engaging lyrical theme and manages to impart that concept through all of its instruments. In short, Premeditated doesn’t have the makings of a classic, but it’s a thoroughly-enjoyable death metal record with a solid attention to detail and a bit of a laid-back approach in the serious department. As good as it is, though, I’d like to see how mister Nicholson would do if he wrote himself a full-length album.
1.) Born to Kill
3.) The Anticipation of Torture
8.) Hiding the Remains