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Hollow production overshadows potential. - 45%

Diamhea, January 30th, 2014

There is a decent album hiding somewhere in The Art of Balance, but no matter how earnest the effort, a sizable portion of it's promise is gutted due to the dreadful production values. Viewing this approach from the band's perspective, the compressed, crunchy sonic aesthetics might be a nod to the "hard rock" portion of the genre-balancing act as per the album's title. It falls flat all the same, as some of the heavier, grooving riffing patterns suffer mightily under the weight of the poor production, neutralizing The Art of Balance's melodic death disposition and testing the listener's patience in more ways than one.

Shadows Fall get a decent groove going during "Stepping Outside the Circle" and "Mystery of One Spirit", but even compact, potent compositions such as these can barely keep their heads above water when the guitars are this gutted. It sounds like the band recorded the rhythm tracks using 30-watt practice amps. The pinch harmonics also sound thin, wafting, and irritating. Even so, "Mystery of One Spirit" opens with a catchy, animated main riff and features a neck-jerking gallop, making this one a keeper, at the very least. I am also quite partial to the title track, which is more emotional and stirring. Fair's clean vocals sound really good on that one, although his approach has the tendency to devolve into atonal half-shouting that clashes with the melodic side of the material here. I've also heard Bittner lauded as some sort of drum-genius, but he certainly makes no case for that title here.

The second half of The Art of Balance seals it's fate as a true disappointment. "The Idiot Box" features a heavier inclination to its riffs, but a dearth of melody seriously damages it's staying power. "A Fire in Babylon" is the obvious attempt at an "epic" number, being over seven minutes long and featuring an instrumental precursor in "Prelude to Disaster". The band really builds this one up as being something to remember, but most if it blends in with the rest of the material here. Some of the vocal lines are more experimental and the there is a decent half-thrash passage near the end, but nothing even bordering on the quality present in the title track or "Mystery of One Spirit". The Pink Floyd cover is also a waste of time and comes off as a really forced attempt at paying homage to the classic rock aesthetics The Art of Balance supposedly draws inspiration from. I certainly don't hear them.

It has it's moments, but I can't help but feel that one of the biggest issues with The Art of Balance is deep-rooted and revolves around the forced attempt at melding the disparate styles together. Seek out "Mystery of One Spirit" and the title track. Get The War Within instead, which comes off as less pretentious and meandering on the whole.