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A solid, if confused, effort. - 88%

Mustainica, April 7th, 2007

(Originally written for the Riff Repository: )

It pains me to give a Shadows Fall album bad marks, as they are probably my favorite group of the current crop of the so-called New Wave of American Heavy Metal. Their first album on major label Atlantic (fifth overall), the Shads seem to fall prey to "the Black Album syndrome".

I had very high hopes for this album after hearing a very solid B-sides EP (Fallout From the War) and an extremely riffy single in the form of "Redemption". Sadly, as has been the case with many new releases these days, the single seems to actually be one of, if not the best song on the album. Redemption, the first track off of Threads of Life , kicks off the album in a badass, aggressive, slag of modern thrash. However, the songs that would ensue seem to not follow "Redemption"'s focused, yet modern approach.

Brian Fair has been quoted in several interviews as having said, "We just wanted to make a solid metal album." Shadows Fall did, in fact, accomplish just that. The problem is, while just about every track on the record is, in fact, 'solid', none of the tracks themselves stand out as particularly exceptional or new. The album seems to have a very "haven't I heard this before?" vibe going on, save the ballady, but surprisingly good, "Another Hero Lost". I can't recall an exact example, but I'm sure I've heard some of the very same chord progressions, if not carbon-copy riffs, in previous Shadows Fall songs.

I was not afraid when Brian Fair had said that Shadows Fall would be experimenting, especially after hearing the quality of "Redemption". It seems, however, that said experimentation actually translated into a streamlining, dare I say, watering-down-of-musicianship, kind of way. I'm not necessarily against going for a more accessible sound, provided it is done in style ( At the Gates' Slaughter of the Soul or Carcass' Heartwork come to mind). From a songwriting standpoint, Shadows Fall certainly succeeded in making the album more instantly 'catchy', in straightforward kind of way. However, when catchiness comes with the caveat of the songs sounding boring and/or repetitive, I think I'll take complexity any day.

It is this "almost, but not quite there" quality that makes Threads of Life seem to be confused as to what style it is trying to achieve. While at some points it seems like it might be going in a riffy, complex segment of old, it will randomly change to something anthemic and very basic. Sometimes the songs will have a thrashy old school feel (as on The War Within and The Art of Balance), but more often than not, we'll have sections or whole songs of the generic, arena metal ilk. This is what I mean by the "Black Album" syndrome. Much like Metallica's LP, Threads of Life shows elements of previous efforts that make the sound still distinctly both metal and Shadows Fall, but it treads very close to approaching a more generic, mainstream approach.

I will give some credit where credit is due, however. Brian Fair's vocal work is probably at its best and most varied on these songs. I'm not just talking about the pseudo-soulful crooning on "Another Hero Lost", either. Fair's typical shouty and clean vocals heard on prior releases are still used in heavy quantities, however, several different styles have been employed as well. "Redemption", for example, sees Fair going to a more mid-range, Hetfield-inspired bark. Its evident that fair has received at least some degree of training as there are times where he is certainly singing properly. Conversely, is it just me, or does the way Fair switches styles on "Dread Uprising" sound almost exactly like some song from the War Within sessions?

Despite my nit-picking, Threads of Life is by no means a 'bad' album. There are no poor songs in its entire forty-nine minutes of play; but there are no real standout ones, either. I guess when a band like Shadows Fall sets the bar as high as they have, you get a little disappointed when their newest disc doesn't give you that 'satisfied' feeling in your gut that you get when you listen to a very solid album. Despite outright denying that they would not change their sound for a major label, I get that sinking feeling that Shadows Fall is starting down along a path of more mainstream mediocrity. I hope I'm wrong.