Review Summary: The band's defining release.
Massachusetts act Shadows Fall have had their share of success (and criticism), namely after the release of their true breakthrough album, The War Within
. Despite said album's popularity, it's far from the more masterful command and execution of its predecessors. Both Somber Eyes to the Sky
and Of One Blood
were rough productions, showing the band in a more or less thrash-hardcore light. While they were both vigorously enjoyable albums, their sound would gradually become more refined with later works. And it's on their 2002 outing, The Art of Balance
, that we see such traits push their music forth more than anything else they've done.
Kicking off with crunchy riffs and a harsh vocal combination on "Idle Hands," The Art of Balance
is quick to let the listener know just what to expect. Similar to how Lamb of God let their Pantera-esque groove metal influences compliment their metalcore roots, Shadows Fall give us a deeper, more modern thrash metal infusing for their own. Sometimes the music is handled on the slower (though still well-paced) side, such as during "The Idiot Box" and most of "A Fire in Babylon." We even get some melodic guitar-playing on the title track, which sees some heavier riffs included just enough for an interesting, edgy combination. Then we get tracks like "Thoughts Without Words" and "Stepping Outside the Circle," which up the intensity considerably and remind us why people love to see them live.
If it isn't clear by now, where the album truly shines is with the dual-guitar combination of Jonathan Donais and Matt Bachand. Their riff/medley mixes are effective, memorable and are a key reason the songs work and sound so well. Yet it's during the solos that they truly leave us in awe (see "Thoughts Without Words"); adding wonderful climaxes to the mix. The rest of the band don't slouch around, either. Though often criticized, Brian Fair proves his vocal chops more here than on any other album they've done. His lows (matched nicely by Donais and Bachand's backing vocals) help further compliment the crunch-ridden thrash/metalcore sound The Art of Balance
provides. More familiar screams and yells are also provided which, though not in the least bit remarkable, are exactly what the music demands: a fitting voice. Paul Romanko and Jason Bittner also do well maintaining the rhythm in their parts as bassist and drummer, respectively.
In addition to a stellar listing of eight tracks, and two nicely placed, atmospheric instrumental interludes ("Casting Shade" and "Prelude to Disaster"), we're also treated to a surprisingly great cover of Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine." While the band's subsequent song covers have proven all but warranted, this is one that actually does justice to the original. Though we get a taste of the band's regular sound throughout, the original song's mellow and somber spirit have been retained. The resulting combination is very effective, allowing the song to remain haunting and chill-ridden
Shadows Fall are far from a quintessential band of any genre, especially since they branch away from basic metalcore more than several other groups in the New Wave of American Metal. Despite this, they've certainly provided us with some solid releases in their career. And if any of them stands out enough to show their potential the most, it would definitely be The Art of Balance
. There's not much to really hold against the album other than lacking more entirely compelling tracks; but excellence and high recommendation don't require perfection.