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Threads of alright - 69%

gasmask_colostomy, October 17th, 2016

I've had some of the songs from this album knocking around for a really long time and a while ago I saw a super-cheap CD of Threads of Life so decided to give the rest a try. Shadows Fall have always been a nearly band in my mind: they made it pretty big on the album previous to this in 2004 and I'm sure a lot of people are still paying attention, but for me they just never managed to get any release absolutely right or sufficiently meld together their stewpot of influences. Supposedly The Art of Balance was so named because of the band's effort to mix metal, hardcore, and rock, though I would add thrash and melodeath to that concoction, both of which are more evident in this release than any proceeding.

That hybridization of styles is certainly enough to lump the band with the "modern metal" tag, since the mixing of so many different influences has tended to produce a homogeneous sound that groups together bands like Trivium, Lamb of God, All That Remains, and so on. However, Shadows Fall had two distinct disadvantages compared to those bands from their inception up to this album - namely poor production and poor vocals. The production issues are not nearly so catastrophic as on Of One Blood, which nearly served to destroy an otherwise creative album, though there is still a dryness to the guitars and a slightly restrained drum sound that hold the band back from hitting huge at aggressive moments. That said, they escape from the Lamb of God pitfall, where the production is so souped-up and juicy that everything grooves even when it isn't supposed to, robbing songs of their danger and spontaneity. The other problem - that of the vocals - remains unsolved, although yet again isn't so glaringly obvious here. Brian Fair doesn't have a pleasant voice to listen to, either with his dry barks or odd, flu-ridden cleans. Neither voice is very tuneful, even when the guitarists contribute some more melodic vocals, some of which are decent, some of which are simply boring. I don't know, maybe Fair got the role because of his hair.

Anyway, the best part of this album is the guitars, not that that can surprise anyone after I've just complained about the vocals. The pair of Jonathon Donais and Matthew Bachand have a pretty good hold over lead and rhythm playing respectively, making songs dynamic and exciting for the most part. There is a nice thrashy riff on 'Failure of the Devout', some decent melodies on 'Redemption', and a cool bridge on 'Final Call', which are probably the highlights on the rhythm front. On the other hand, there are plenty of moments when the riffs just bunch together into two categories - that of the fast thrashy/modern metal style and that of the slamming metalcore one. Some songs, like 'Burning the Lives' and 'Dread Uprising', don't do enough to stand out from a host of other bands who were turning out a superficially "exciting" sound in 2007, but which really peddled the same tricks to death. The solos are a breath of fresh air to the album though, penetrating with greater precision and grace than before. They centre around the kind of melodeath break that billows out and seems to travel far from its starting point, meaning that Donais has thought out the progression of each lead carefully and ensured memorability over anything showy. The bass is not bad, being surprisingly audible and sometimes diverting, yet along with the drums root the sound quite firmly in the more limited arena of metalcore, providing a grooving and slamming quality to most of the songs.

Unlike the very creative Of One Blood, I can't sit through the whole album without feeling bored, since too many of the songs descend into samey passages, particularly verses which have less prominent riffs. 'Redemption' is a powerful opener, 'Failure of the Devout' has a more aggressive streak to it, and 'Forevermore' signs off on a pretty good note, but there's nothing truly exceptional to get too excited about, unless you still find those meat and potatoes riffs tasty after so many meals. 'Another Hero Lost' is a useful way to break up the album, since many groups might feel pressured to put the ballad at the end, though here it occupies the mid-section and actually sounds alright despite the vocals. If you've been enthusiastic about any of Shadows Fall's albums, you'll definitely want to check this one out, but if you don't have much stomach for metalcore or want the vocals to dominate, you're going to be a bit disappointed.