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Interesting concepts, but not matched by execution - 60%

rauk, October 28th, 2014

Blackwine's 2008 album The Shadow is a very strange, mixed bag. I feel I can't give a completely accurate review because I don't understand Cantonese, but for any non-speaker I think it's fine to treat the vocals as another instrument. Blackwine is very ambitious, having made a concept album detailing a detective's pursuit of a killer, and being greatly influenced by Dream Theater in both vision and style. There's very little Cantopop influence, or any Asian music flavor at all. If the lyrics were translated and sung in English, you wouldn't be able to tell where the band is from.

Production is a slight weak point. Separation of instruments is quite good; the bass is distinct when it's not following the guitars, and the drums are dry and crisp. However, the guitar tones leave a lot to be desired. In lead sections the guitar is a bit thin, and it's a little too buzzy for rhythms. It also sits too far behind vocals and drums for guitar driven music.

The strongest point of the album is the writing. Riffs are memorable, albeit they depend a little too much on Iron Maiden galloping when they run out of steam. The bassist and drummer form a solid rhythm section and the bassist takes several John Myung inspired solos. The most memorable tune is Yingzi, which has a great intro with a groovy hihat shuffle and bass line and moves into solid metal riffing.

Being a prog metal album, there's a lot of wankery and guitar solos, which normally is great for any prog fan. I say normally, because the guitarist is below average when it comes to soloing. Fast alternate picking sections are very messy, sweeping is muddy and unclear. He has nice melodic ideas, but either did not have the budget for studio time to record his solos until they were acceptable, or is just attempting to play beyond his technique.

The lowest point of the album is the vocals. The singer cannot sing. He has an appropriately gritty metal voice, but is pitchy, lacks power or lung capacity, and sounds absolutely strangled when he tries for any high notes. The singer alone manages to take an average metal release and make it almost completely unlistenable, which is a pity because there are genuinely good songs on this album. Although it's outside of the scope of this album review, Blackwine currently has a new live singer who, although has a very polished, smooth voice more appropriate for Cantopop, can actually hit the correct notes, improving the music tenfold.

The Shadow is a very flawed, ambitious album sadly marred by below average execution. It's worth picking up for the sheer novelty of Cantonese language metal. Outside of novelty however, I would wait for a second album featuring the new singer.