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The knockoff betrays the original. - 53%

hells_unicorn, October 10th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Sleaszy Rider Records

Imitation may prove to be the ultimate form of flattery, but if the object of emulation isn't terribly flattering to being with, there are limits to how far the tag-along can hope to go. Thus stands the predicament that befalls Shatter Messiah, a band that exists primarily as a reassertion of the sort of muddled groove thrashing modernity that typified the first five years of Nevermore's checkered career, with perhaps a superior sense of melody and accessibility that was imported from the late 80s and even an occasional affinity for the correspondingly more riff-happy character of thrash metal of the same time period. This is the likely path for a band co-founded by Ohio native Curran Murray, who's guitar exploits earned him a slot as a live guitarist alongside Jeff Loomis in the earlier 2000s in Nevermore, not to mention semi-frequent appearances during the same time period in Annihilator playing foil to Jeff Waters. If there is any lesson to be drawn from both of these other bands in question, it is that technical ability alone does not make for a superior metal LP, and on Shatter Messiah's latest studio outing Orphans Of Chaos, Murray and company fall into the same proverbial trap.

To this band's credit, this album falls nowhere near the abhorrent drudgery that was Dead Heart In A Dead World or All For You, and functions more as a mixed bag of pass and fail. On the positive side of things, vocalist Michael Duncan proves to be a far more effective dramatic character to assume the often schizophrenic role required for this style, and possesses a high range fairly reminiscent of King Diamond at times, resulting in something that isn't all that far off from the Greek outfit Heathendom. There isn't a single moment of absolute cringe to be found on here of the Warrel Dane variety, though at times Duncan goes a little overboard on the grit and sounds a tad bit muddled here and there. By the same token, when things lean towards the faster side, as heard on the galloping thrasher "Shallow" or the chaotic crusher "Nothing Friend", the dreary world of modernity finds itself taking a break to make room for something a bit more archaic, almost as if taking cues from the last couple Annihilator albums but with a more competent vocalist.

Sadly, for every moment of absolute brilliance where mid-paced grooving is used sparingly and more time is spent cooking, there are about as many where this band sees fit to put on the brakes and throw off the entire continuity of the album. Case and point being the grunge-infused dud "Doom", which listens like a bad version of mid-90s Alice In Chains mixed with a stagnant guitar line reminiscent of Dreaming Neon Black, to speak nothing for the damned thing dragging out for over seven minutes. To make matters worse, the slow and stagnant parts are clustered together with little sense of pacing, as the aforementioned overlong bore-fest is preceded by an equally slow and plodding "atmospheric" number that's a couple minutes shorter in "The Mad Man Lies". Chalk things up with the album closing on a drearily boring and near seven minute long ballad out of turn-of-the-millennium Nevermore's playbook in "Free", and the album opening on a decidedly lukewarm note with a generally mid-paced groove number in "Fixx For Demise" that is competent but generally unmemorable, and an otherwise strong album turns into a sub-par mess.

When considering the entirety of this album, it is difficult not to consider the massive waste of talent that went into producing such a sad little middle ground between decent modern thrash and stagnant groove metal. The generally strong and punchy stride of "Disruption" and "Thoughtless Timeless" suggests that there are two different bands at work here, and the tech happy guitar work and chaotic goodness of "Slave" gives a bird's eye view into how much better Nevermore got just prior to Loomis' exodus when he was allowed to get a bit more adventurous. Nevertheless, the other half of the album just sinks into the murky swamps of heaviness without purpose or direction and meandering balladry that leaves the ears as quickly as it enters them. Whether it be pandering or an actual genuine desire to emulate an inferior art form, the results speak for themselves, and anyone assuming that there is any lack in ability to produce solid music from the membership included here are encouraged to check out Sunless Sky's Doppelgänger and Thunder Tribe's War Chant and allow this sad little misfire to be relegated to the nearest orphanage.