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Great songs, abysmal production - 60%

mot_the_barber, May 19th, 2009

The members of Shadows Fall maintain that the title of this album is a reference to their desire to balance elements of rock, hardcore, and metal in their music, and on this album in particular. In terms of songwriting, at least, they're far more successful at it here than on any of their other albums. In my opinion their first two albums sound like they're still trying to figure out their sound, and don't display such consistent songwriting ability. Their albums after this one (especially their most recent) swing too far in the direction of groovy neo-thrash to pack much of a punch.

But on this album they really do find a good balance between catchy rock, hardcore breakdowns, and thrash riffing. "Idle Hands" and "Mystery of One Spirit" both open with killer riffs, a knack that Shadows Fall carried over from their more melodeath days. They also do slower, grinding numbers quite well, as evidenced by "Destroyer of Senses" and "The Idiot Box." The breakdowns here are a highlight, as they are always well-placed, never unnecessary, and never go on too long. In particular, the breakdown at the end of "Stepping Outside the Circle" has an aggressive catchiness that few other melodic metalcore bands have. They're even able to do epic thrash ride-outs, as in the final few minutes of "A Fire In Babylon."

But..........

This album has some of the worst production I've ever heard. The sound has no punch at all, and it robs the music of most of its vitality. Things that should sound huge and powerful (and do, live) come across as banal and pointless because the sound is so bad. The guitars have no dynamics at all. It sounds like the guitarists recorded the album with little 15-inch amps they bought at Wal-Mart. There's a little "crunch" to the sound but no depth to speak of, and the highs all sound small and squealy. The bass is audible, at least, but it doesn't provide any more bite than the guitar does. The drums are mixed just about right, but because everything else is mixed wrong, they sound too loud. Jason Bittner is an excellent drummer but I can understand why everyone thinks Shadows Fall is just about drum wankery.

It seems to me like this album should be a prime candidate to be included in this re-recording trend that's popped up of late. The difference is that this one actually stands to benefit from the act.