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Shadows Fall have never tried to reinvent themselves but have maintained a steady growth that has kept them interesting and respected artists. Fire From The Sky is absolutely no exception to that. It starts off with one of their best songs to date, "The Unknown". Replete with shred licks, a very singable chorus, dual vocals and thought out song structuring, this is how much of the album goes.
While working your way through the meat of the album you will find there are no shortages of grooving, head banging riffs and drum patterns to get you moving. In the best of ways, the drums are especially all over the place on this album. Jason Bittner makes a clear effort to put himself to the test as far as matching the shreddiness of the guitars and surpassing his earlier efforts. Easily heard on cuts like "The Unknown", "Weight Of The World", "Lost Within", and the title track "Fire From The Sky".
The title track being one of the more outstanding tracks on the album, you will clearly notice the dark atmosphere and touches of death metal that poke their head out, not uniquely to this track, but maybe most noticeably. While there are plenty of moods and atmospheres on the album it all remains very balanced. There is as much shred as there is groove and as much singing as there is screaming. One of the more obvious spots of growth would be the dual vocal attack they have had since the beginning. "Walk The Edge" and "Nothing Remains" are great examples. Not overly complicated ideas like this are what set them apart from some of their lesser contemporaries.
As far as production goes, again, it is very balanced. Compared to their previous works, it's in the middle. Not as raw as the earlier stuff and not quite as clean as "Threads" or even "Retribution". As with most Shadows albums, the bass is still higher in the mix. Not so much as a lot of their other LPs but enough that the casual listener can easily recognize it.
The two bonus tracks exclusive to this edition, "Eternal Life" and "A Death Worth Dying" fit in as if they were always supposed to be there. The latter I consider to be one of the best on the album. They have everything the rest of the album has and more. "Eternal Life" has one of the more unique opening riffs of the whole affair. The only caveat is "A Death Worth Dying" only with a brief intro opens with the same rhythm guitar riff, albeit slowed down just a bit, as "Weight Of The World". A minor issue relative to the strength of the songs.
It’s easy to forget just how huge the growth of the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal was. Half the reason for that is because most of its pioneers are either now torch-carriers of the heavy metal genre, such as Lamb Of God and Machine Head, or they have disbanded. Sometimes this is disguised as an ‘extended hiatus’ but its still due to the undying fact that the NWOAHM is over. Chimaira, God Forbid, Bleeding Through... The list goes on. It was a good time for metal though- these bands gained commercial acceptance with stadium sized anthems that through the spirit of radio undeniably gained a shit ton of fans but Shadows Fall still cling to existence and aside from a bountiful handful of ragers, the 5 piece still fail to accept that times have changed. Is it for the best though?
Fire From The Sky is an important album. Shadows Fall need some sort of revitalisation else they will fade from modern existence and just become ‘one of those bands we all used to like’. Luckily, such re-energising is found in tracks such as Divide And Conquer and Blind Faith. With the album clocking just over 40 minutes, Shadows Fall do not outstay their welcome; more to their own benefit. The former track continues the momentum left off from the previous song with an infectious stamping groove that not only refreshes themselves, but the subgenre as well. The latter track catches you off guard because just as you think the speed is broken by acoustic guitars, a supple hook passes the song into a sonic trample of melodious guitars and heated vocals.
The quintet does have a signature sound however some of the riffs and structures in this album do seem no different to anything we have heard before. Walk The Edge suffers the uncomfortable title of being a great song but an unoriginal one at the same time. Its mainly focused on Fair’s lyrical and abilities-going from raspy growls to heartened verses. But the guitar riffs and solo sounds no different to anything on their previous album Retribution. The drum work on this album has been absolutely solid and pleasingly thrashy but even this is mellowed down. Thankfully the closer, The Wasteland, is the complete opposite definition of Walk The Edge. A breath of relief no doubt.
The production of Fire From The Sky is Shadows Fall’s main alibi in their seventh album. Fellow new wave neighbour Adam D (Killswitch Engage) is the man behind the strong crisp sounds; the first time since their debut album- 15 years ago. The immediate propelling chop of The Unknown proves that Adam D knows the difference between good and bad metalcore. Every instrument has been polished with bass sounding unusually clear plus the changes from light to growl vocals from the (literally) dreaded Brian Fair in Weight Of The World are precisely pronounced. Perhaps having someone who has grown with the same subgenre was a clever move by the band? The two aforementioned tracks are both snappy and quick but the production also shines in slower moments of the album, Such as the title track, where Shadows Falls’ heaviness can be emphasised through the dawning dual riffs. Adam D has truly pushed them to their limits with their overall musicianship.
There’s no bullshit about this album. No filler. No pissing around, playing for time. Straight up with no bells and whistles is “The Unknown”, and it’s pretty fucking clear that lead guitarist Jonathan Donais is the star of the show this time around. The first track is constructed entirely around his melodic leads, and the solo is brilliantly executed.
The second thing you notice is that Jason Bittner, the band’s drummer, has gone slightly more insane in the gap between this release and the last. 2009’s stellar “Retribution” was an intense offering from the band all-round, but Bittner has upped his game this time around, delivering particularly impressive double bass rolls and even some brilliant blast beat sections.
The songs themselves are essentially standard Shadows Fall, not that that’s a bad thing. They’re well put together and the album is very well arranged. Arguably, the opener isn’t as brilliant as Retribution’s “My Demise”, but it is pretty damn hard to beat that song. The rest of the band performs brilliantly, too. Rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist Matthew Bachand delivers some brutal gutturals and, if I’m not mistaken, even delivers a furious solo in one or two tracks.
The production is great, and every instrument and element can be heard very well including Paul Romanko’s bass, which resonates a deep metallic tone across the sound.
The one thing that mars this record is Brian Fair. His vocals aren’t bad by a long shot, but after so many Shadows Fall albums with him present, he still hasn’t changed from his standard throaty screams and yells. They seem slightly dull amidst the furious musicianship of the rest of the band.
But I think it’s important that I cover just how brilliantly Jonathan Donais performs on this offering. There is not a single song spared from his glorious soloing, and I mean glorious in every sense of the word. While there isn’t quite as many intro solos as the last record, his phrasing and shredding have improved a lot. There’s a lot more power behind the notes and a fuckload more sweep picking, which gives a fantastic sense of class to the mix.
A great record for long-time fans and also a great taster for perspective new audiences. However, if you are a new fan, you might want to check out “My Demise” from the last record as well, as that’s a fucking awesome song.