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Tragically boring. - 45%

Noktorn, April 27th, 2009

This is easily the gentlest and cuddliest album in Shadows Fall's already not particularly rough discography. Even moreso than Killswitch Engage, this often sounds like alternative rock spiced up with occasional double bass and melodeath-style twin solos. While this is titled 'The Art Of Balance', ostensibly referring to the band mixing elements of rock, metal, and hardcore, this is distinctly unbalanced in favor of the first of those three, with even the most aggressive portions of this album seeming like something for those who think Michael Bolton is just a little too heavy.

As you can expect, this is some tragically boring music; it's not really offensive but I can hardly think of a reason to listen to it. Unlike the previous album, 'Of One Blood', which had some nice riffs and occasionally catchy tracks, or the next, 'The War Within', which showed the band fully becoming the pop group with double bass they always wanted to be, this is caught hopelessly in the middle of the road between a million different musical ideas, none of which go anywhere. The essential form of the music remains the same as the last album (though mostly devoid of the thrash influence): melodic metalcore heavy on both hardcore and rock music with occasional melodeath influences, but here it seems that the band was trying to do something remotely ambitious and as a result ended up just throwing up their hands and cranking out some really boring tracks to pad out the running time.

This is a singularly unmemorable release because it can't commit fully enough in any direction to be even remotely interesting. An overarching sense of rock song structures has random interjections of metal and hardcore inserted into it, but instead of embracing and synthesizing these elements into each other like would be seen on 'The War Within', Shadows Fall keeps everything separated by wrought-iron fences, preventing any cohesion from forming between the musical ideas. Pseudo-melodeath riffs are thrown against rock drum beats and hardcore vocals, and while the combination ends up being not altogether unlistenable, it's distinctly pointless and bland.

On the other hand, the production is a massive step up from the unbelievably atrocious, murky mix of 'Of One Blood', and the song structures are a little bit more logical even if the genre-bending becomes frustrating at times. At the same time, though, the playing seems slow and occasionally clumsy, and despite the inherent listenability of all the music, none of it ends up going anywhere of worth: the album's content to repeat the same tiny set of musical ideas verbatim over and over again, perhaps in some hope that repetition will breed enjoyment. As you would expect, it's not the case: it just serves to make an already unexciting album even more boring.

The next Shadows Fall album would end up being considerably better and probably the best work the band's ever done, so you can ignore this album and pick up 'The War Within' instead if you badly need a dose of poppy metalcore. This isn't terrible, but it's metal for your mom.