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Shadows Fall The Art of Balance

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Tuesday, October 22, 2002 @ 11:13 AM

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Skepticism collects within my soul like random semen deposits in the vagina of an old whore.

So it should come as no surprise that I was more than a little suspicious when I first experienced the buzz surrounding this band which, in case you missed it, has been coming on harder and faster than your sister as she gyrates hellaciously on the King Kong vibra ribbed pleasure stick her ex-con boyfriend got her from Christmas. C’mon, these guys from New England are currently featured in Metal Maniacs, Revolver and on MTV’S website which is not an unsubstantial feat for a band who has toiled in relative obscurity since 1996. This could mean one of two things---either they finally hired one hell of a PR firm or the record company is trying desperately to market them in an attempt to fill the massive void in the music scene now that the girthmonster known as Fred Durst has decided to spend less time in the recording studio and more time at Golden Corral.

Actually, the truth is that the band is currently signed on with the same promotions people who represent one of the best new metal bands making music—Soil. It has proven to be a pretty solid choice for Shadows Fall as well as they have certainly managed to garner much needed publicity in a metal market starved for the mainstream to bestow attention on a band that doesn’t rap or wear shiny hubcaps around their necks. Since the object here is to sell at least enough albums so as to not have to work day jobs anymore, I won’t hold their current media prevalence against them. None of this of course makes any difference though if the music isn’t able to substantiate the hype. Whether you want to call this progressive death metal, thrash, speed metal, metal for bong suckers or just plain bad-ass metal, if it doesn’t slam, no self respecting rocker gives a damn. It’s either good or it isn’t. In various interviews, the band has cited both Iron Maiden and Metallica as primary influences for their brand of music which lead vocalist Brian Fair has characterized as sometimes being “too metal for the hardcore crowd…too hardcore for the real metal kids.” As a note to any aspiring metal musicians, you could do a lot worse than to look at Bruce Dickenson, James Hetfield and company for guidance on how to bring down the thunder.

The first song, “Idle Hands” starts off with the typical hyper smashed drums accompanied by the obligatory guttural wails which would typify the sound of any band making music under names like the Intestine Eaters, the Pus Lickers or Satan and the Inverted Popsicle Sticks. It is basically the type of opening to a tune that a listener would love if they were into death metal but would absolutely abhor if they weren’t. Thankfully, as soon as the first track kicked into the bridge with the words becoming more discernable and the Maidenish guitars making their first appearance, the sound of Shadow Falls started to smash through my speakers and separate itself in my mind from the music being created by other bands in related genres.

“Thoughts Without Words” is the first single off “The Art of Balance” and darned if it doesn’t remind me of Anthrax circa “Among the Living”. I don’t mean that in a condescending “this band isn’t very original” kind of way---no, no—I mean it in a “damn, I miss that record” kind of way. There is a perfect melding of the melodic and the powerful--of which, Brian Fair’s (ex-Overcast) vocals are no small component. Throughout the track, he is able to emote just the right levels of urgency and contemplation in this ode to tranquility through balance.

The guitar atmospherics on “Casting Shade” serve as an interesting contrast to the tandem axe work present on the rest of this offering. In order to really make an instrumental stand out though, it should be followed by a song that diverges from the rhythms and scope of its predecessor ala Van Halen’s Eruption/You Really Got Me. Here, the band does show a more than adequate knowledge of sequencing as they follow up their ambient selection with a vintage 80’s sounding power chord and brutal drum work that would make Lars proud--that is if Lars still played drums and didn’t worry so much about who downloads what or what somebody might be getting for free and actually concentrated on going back to the roots of aggression whence his band originated. “Stepping Outside the Circle” is the perfect compliment to its predecessor, and is one of the strongest tracks on the album.

Lyrically this work centers on topics ranging from television mind control in “The Idiot Box” to the spirituality that exists in the searching soul on “Mystery of One Spirit”. When Brian Fair sings lines like “smashing through the doors of perception, realization of a world beyond the tangible,” it reinforces the fact that rock and roll should be just as much about expanding boundaries and experiencing that which is outside the mundane as it is about expounding still further on the virtues of big titties or the evil aura of the devil. Don’t get me wrong—big tits are great and the devil is always entertaining, but a little more diversity within the genre couldn’t hurt. Lyrics like “with the strength of a lion all barriers shall be broken” actually make one believe that there just may be something else to be found in the spiritual nirvana of complete and total freedom. Even their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” seems to resonate with a depth that most bands couldn’t achieve.

Those who pick up a copy of “The Art of Balance” in the first pressing will also receive a CD-ROM of bonus material containing an interview, a band biography, a fifty picture photo gallery as well as live renditions of “Destroyer Of Sense”, “Thoughts Without Words” and a bootlegged version of “Of One Blood. The interview shows a band who isn’t currently experiencing vast wealth or massive amounts of road pussy. Instead, it just shows a group who’s at that point in their career where there just wouldn’t be any reason to do this if it wasn’t about the music. The live material runs smoothly and seamlessly with superior audio—the only exception being “Of One Blood”, but what that particular tune lacks in technical prowess it makes up for in raw energy.

In the KNAC.COM feature about the band, drummer Jason Bittner has stated his belief that The Art of Balance will eventually go down in the annals of metal history right along side the likes of Priest’s Screaming For Vengeance and Maiden’s Number of the Beast, and in fact, this is a quality album the likes of which haven’t been seen in awhile. In the end though, it’s probably more than a little misguided and premature to suggest that any record your band creates could be perceived in the same vein as these watershed metal classics. Ultimately statements like these just serve to create unrealistic expectations for the listener. That being said, even if the cd buying public doesn’t find The Art of Balance to be quite on same level with those epic releases, they should at least be consoled with the knowledge that they just purchased a record with a sound and musicianship that hearkens back to the days when metal was metal, a mullet was a mullet and it was still cool as hell to wear the patches and pins of your favorite metal bands prominently on your acid wash jacket.

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