Review Summary: Though many are likely to shrug the album away, fans of the band or similar music styles will find plenty to enjoy here.
Shadows Fall’s 2007 studio effort Threads of Life proved to be a bag of mixed results with responses that followed suite. Though some found the album to be an overall solid addition to the band’s catalogue, others felt it was but a bland and generic slice of American metalcore. Hoping to gain back old fans while retaining the interest of new followers, Shadows Fall are ready to give us the seeming appropriately titled Retribution. The album aspires to satisfy all of the band’s listeners and altogether, it should manage to do just that.
Rather than being tossed in the middle of the track listing, a short instrumental starts off Retribution leading to the first full song, “My Demise.” The first two and a half minutes of this near-seven minute track sound similar to one of the faster, heavier tracks on The War Within with a bit of The Art of Balance tossed in for good measure. What follows for the rest of the album turns out to be a mix of sounds the band has gone through in the past, albeit with some alterations to try and keep things fresh. In some ways this works to the album’s advantage, but not everything here is as solid as one might hope.
Take for instance the following track, “Still I Rise” (released as a single with an accompanying music video). If you’ve heard this song, then you have an idea of what the album sounds like during its less impressive stretches. Though this single fares slightly better than the weaker tracks on the album, this is mostly thanks to it being heavier with a more driven chorus than the said songs. Where the album slumps the most is during “The Taste of Fear” and “Picture Perfect”, both of which have the same main issue: the use and implementation of backing vocals. Guitarists Matt Bachand and Jonathan Donais have proven themselves as talented musicians, but when providing vocal support they’ve admittedly had their ups and downs. Donais typically does the more “mellow” vocals (see “Inspiration on Demand”), which is a key reason the aforementioned tracks don’t work so well. While Donais had tolerable vocals in the past, here they feel like too much with how the songs are pushed forward and driven by his singing. It also doesn’t help that lead vocalist Brian Fair seems like he’s trying to match the placid singing during these sections. This might not necessarily ruin the tracks per say, but its unlikely most will want to hear them after their first one or two listenings of the entire album.
On the other hand, Retribution has its share of solid material to compensate for these less stellar tracks. Both “My Demise” and “King of Nothing” manage to be two of the album’s heavier and thus more enjoyable moments, with the latter featuring guest vocals from Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe (lending to an irresistibly catchy chorus). Yet it’s the album’s two closing tracks that really seal the deal. The first of the two, “A Public Execution,” manages to be six minutes of the excellent, thrash-influenced heavy metal/metalcore that the band has become known for; I’ll even argue it as a contender for the band’s best overall song. As for the last track, “Dead and Gone,” it blends very well with “A Public Execution” by retaining the heavy nature yet bringing some more melodic vocals from Donais in. The main difference with this track is that his voice doesn’t feel nearly as prominent, so the song is left (mostly) untarnished.
But of course people want to know how good the band is playing here, and the answer is as good as ever. In fact, the musicianship here is arguably the best the band has been since The War Within or even The Art of Balance. Once again, Donais and Bachand are in top form here, providing some great riffs and shredding solos that will, for the time they last, make you forget the weaker songs weren’t so great. Drummer Jason Bittner has also given us yet another solid performance, helping to feed the strong bass lines that are matched and played by Paul Romanko. Then there’s vocalist Brian Fair, who seems to have taken a lot of flak for his rather blunt and generally straightforward vocals. I, however, think he’s a perfectly decent lead singer (not amazing but he does a good enough job). He’s comparable to Chuck Billy; his vocals might not be impressive, but they fit the music very well, and I think that at least warrants some praise.
What Retribution sets out to do is try and satisfy as many fans as possible, and admittedly not everything on the album works due to this. However, it offers up some solid and, in a couple instances, excellent music. Fans who’ve at least enjoyed anything from The Art of Balance up to Threads of Life should at least be able to find something to like in this album. As for those hoping to see a true return to form, the entire album isn’t quite up to snuff, but it’s still worth a listen for any longtime or diehard fans of the band.