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The Power of Sound - 90%

SilenceIsConsent, February 15th, 2012

By and large, I think metalcore stinks. And that's putting it politely. I don't like the majority of metalcore for a lot reasons. I find it extremely repetitive, contrite, and completely mindless over ninety percent of the time. But the key word in my statement is majority. There are a few metalcore bands out there that I do like to varying degrees, and one of them happens to be Shadows Fall. Shadows has always caught my attention for a variety of reasons, among which the band generally do not refer to themselves as a metalcore act and do a lot of things a real metal band would actually do in their music with some hardcore touches. A few years ago, I finally warmed up to the idea of purchasing a Shadows Fall album, and it so happened to be Threads of Life. I never got around to reviewing the album at the time, but eventually I decided that I needed to sit down and start thinking about what I actually thought about this album.

Threads of Life is one of those albums that may not be the best in it's class or in my collection, but it's one that keeps on coming back into my ears. For that reason alone, Threads of Life really is one of my favorite albums in my collection. It is a wonderful mix of quality vocals, thundering yet catchy rhythms, and a sense of looseness that any listener would be hard pressed to find in the metalcore genre. While I do have issues with Threads of Life, by and large this is a worthy album in my collection and easily one of the most accessible metal albums I have ever listened to.

The music on Threads of Life is extremely lose, flowing freely like water running downstream. That's the best way to describe it. It always moves forward, never stops and looks back on itself, and just sounds free. Much of that I feel can be attributed to drummer Jason Bittner. What Bittner may lack in outright speed or technicality, he always seems to make up for in force and precision. Nothing on Threads of Life is that insane in the technicality department, but he knows when to play the right stops at the right time, what double bass speed to use at each moment, and what drums to use for every situation and scenario. And each beat just sounds like it has a ton of force and emotion l I have only seen musically from working with conductors in a symphony orchestra. Bittner's role on Threads of Life is that of the conductor, every band member follows his lead in terms of tempo, volume, and force, and they are almost always spot on.

Guitar wise, this is where the hardcore elements I feel are shown the most. Some of the riffs have a legitimate hardcore feel to them with some of the chords that are used, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The riffs are never repetitive or staccatoed to the point where they need a synchronized bout of double bass to sound like they fit in, they sound like they belong. The same can be said of the harmonies that are pumped out by Matt Bachand and Jon Donais. The hooks that these harmonies are used for are always at the right moment, and never are they dragged out. Sometimes they are misplaced, like on the intro to Final Call and a few of the small breakdown sections, but by and large these two did a great job with riff and harmony construction and placement.

One of the initial reasons I was so drawn to Shadows Fall in the first place was lead guitarist Jon Donais, because most metalcore bands simply omit guitar solos all together. Donais has never been known as the best lead guitarist in the metalcore genre (that honor probably goes to Oli Herbert of fellow New Englanders All That Remains), but what he does do is construct strong solos that hardly sound repetitive even though they use the same tremolo picked pentatonic and harmonic scales over and over again. When I first listened to Threads of Life, I wondered how anyone could discern the solos of "Venomous" and "Failure of the Devout" apart from another, but now I understand why. These guitar solos are the kind that I love hearing on metal albums, because these are the kind of guitar solos that make a kid say "I wish I could play that!". They're memorable and awe striking without being overtly pretentious and technical, and that I think is what matters the most.

What sold me on Threads of Life particularly is the vocal performance. Brian Fair's vocals on Threads of Life are some of the best I have ever heard on any metal album. Part of the reason I love it is that Fair's voice rarely ever sounds forced. Fair largely left out long passages involving that deep growling that, while sounding legitimately like he's possessed, sounds overly forced and in the past I felt was used too much. Instead, he uses a more middle ground clean voice that stylistically sounds rather similar to James Hetfield. The way he projects himself throughout the verses of songs sound similar to the Metallica vocalist, though his voice is distinct (unlike a certain other metalcore vocalist) nonetheless. The operatic vocals are pretty quality for the most part, with both Brian and Matt Bachand providing loads of choir esque choruses that sound pretty good for the most part. Even the growling bits sound well placed. All the vocal styling contain pretty good vocal patterns, though some are a little odd and do not maximize the instrumental hooks behind them.

There's not too much wrong with Threads of Life in general. If I had two complaints, it would be regarding the bass and the lyrics. Paul Romanko is a decent bassist. You never really hear too much of him, though I think that might be more due to the mix then his actual playing. Still, most of the bass lines are pretty simple and follow the lead of the guitars. The one bit where he does kind of come out on his own is in this acoustic sort of interlude in "Fovermore", which sounds awesome, and that's pretty much all you hear of him. The lyrics on Threads of Life are the one aspect where I can say the band kind of fell on it's face. Nonsensical is the best way to describe them. Most of the songs are about introspective personal themes, but I never really like these lyrics since I think they are extremely melodramatic most of the time. These lyrics on Threads of Life are not necessarily overtly melodramatic, but I just do not understand what Shadows Fall is trying to get at with them. However, there are a few songs that kind of stray away from this mold. Failure of the Devout talks about the idiocy of religious radicalism, but the lyrics are just plain boring. Then there's Burning the Lives, which is some kind of conspiracy theorist anti new world order diatribe with stuff about the free mason. They are just boring and if anyone other than Brian Fair was singing them, a lot of people would say they sound downright stupid.

Despite what I may have said above, the mix on Threads of Life is a great mix. I love the way this album sounds. The drum tone in particular is one that I absolutely love. The drums sound wonderful, having a great cut in the mix and sounding incredibly forceful, especially the snare tone. I also love the guitar tone, it's one of the best I have heard on a metalcore album. The lead tone rules, with each note crystal clear and the solos sounding more than a bunch of squeals. The vocals are also perfectly clear and receive just the right balance in the mix. The bass could have been better, but I'm not complaining about it too much.

So all in all, Shadows Fall's Threads of Life is a quality album. Yes, it's metalcore and there's no denying that. But on that note, it's some of the most original sounding metalcore out there and it is utterly clear that Shadows Fall have made a record that really stands apart. No questions about it, this is one of the best metalcore albums I have ever heard, and I am very impressed by Threads of Life.