Review Summary: Everybody makes mistakes.
Shadows Fall have traveled the same path many of their peers have from an underground metal act to radio metal superstars. Bands like Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage, and Atreyu have demonstrated this generation of metal’s move toward a more generic and easy-to-swallow sound after signing to major labels. Shadows Fall proved to fans (and themselves, more importantly) that the move to a major label does not always equate to success and – more importantly – better music. Retribution seems to be an attempt to erase Threads of Life from anyone’s memory and reignite the flames fans had for (its righteously well-respected) albums such as The Art of Balance and The War Within.
Jon Donais brings the shred back to their sound in a big way; the album is filled (to the brim) with impressive solos and ear-piercing pinch harmonics, reminding listeners his name sounds so familiar. In fact, the guitar work on Retribution is arguably the best of their careers – the perfect blend of their breakneck speed and groovy stomp riffs has been achieved in many of the tracks, namely “My Demise,” “War,” “King of Nothing,” “A Public Execution,” “Embrace Annihilation,” and “Dead and Gone.” The switch to a slightly more progressive sound gives the album replay value listeners haven’t had since The Art of Balance (a third of the album tops the six-minute mark!) and The War Within rock ‘n’ roll catchiness remains in tact.
Brian Fair regulates the choruses of the album with similar judgment used on The War Within. Nothing on Retribution is disturbingly as cheesy as the hooks on Threads of Life or even some of the more radio friendly War Within tracks. His balance of ghastly screams and growls with just the right amount of singing (he seems to know his limits now), allowing Matt Bachand to put on a surprisingly stellar, emotive, and earnest vocal performance (“My Demise” and “The Taste of Fear” are two good examples). This justly compliments Fair’s arsenal of vocal attacks that offer much more ferocity and darkness. Donais also makes some vocal appearances; assisting one of the best gang-vocal arrangements I’ve heard in a while on “Embrace Annihilation” – a vocal highlight for the album (it’ll get stuck in your head and you’ll love it). Spread throughout the album seems to be a tendency to layer and arrange vocals in a much more complex and interesting way than in the past, again enhancing the replay value of the album.
The rhythm section was best left unaltered. Jason Bittner’s drumming is nothing markedly new, but typically solid throughout – properly backing the grooves, driving faster riffs, and throwing in drum/cymbal accents in guitar breaks among other techniques that keep things fresh. The bass work on this album is typical Shad fare, holding down the low end and filling some voids here and there, but never really giving listeners any “Wow!” moments, which is perfectly fine for their purposes.
Retribution demonstrates the wisdom this band has gained thus far and their competency in the modern music scene. They’ve reverted to what got them signed to a major label in the first place while incorporating aspects of their “old-school” selves. Donais is the primary factor in this equation, truly stepping it up to modern (and ironically “old-school”) tastes. Gone are the cheesy ballads and the sometimes phony-sounding clean vocals in exchange for old-fashioned metal goodness. Shadows Fall crafted a great album by fixing many problems of past albums, but it simply fails to break enough new ground to win over new fans and push boundaries.