Over the last decade or so, Shadows Fall have become one of the most prominent faces for American heavy metal. They garnered much attention and found a fan in me with their albums Of One Blood and The Art Of Balance, which showcased their fast, melodic guitar work and crushing percussion with a mix of hardcore screams and clean vocal harmonies. Since that time, their style has evolved into more of a traditional heavy metal sound, and while they have earned the support of many new fans through this transition, they’ve also drawn criticism from some who had been following since the year 2000. With the release of Fire From The Sky this year, it would seem that the band aims to do something about that.
If you’ve been a Shadows Fall fan from the days of old, it literally takes a nanosecond for Fire From The Sky to get your attention. “The Unknown” has a very intriguing opening, featuring the fast, intricate, and melodic guitars you’ve come to know the band for, over a rocking, dark rhythm. After the first minute and half or so, there should be no doubt that you’re listening to the heaviest goddamned Shads record this side of the last 8 years. At the same time, the song also proves that the band hasn’t abandoned their contemporary evolution or the fans that they’ve made through it, and I felt the track was a perfect marriage of the new and the old.
Fire From The Sky has a great flow to it – songs like “Save Your Soul”, “Weight Of The World”, and “Blind Faith” are a throwback, while “Divide And Conquer” and “Nothing Remains” are reminiscent of the material that Shadows Fall has been producing in recent times. The title track is a bit of a departure for the band – it is slow to start, somewhat dissonant, yet all-around heavy, and ultimately, enjoyable. “Walk The Edge” was a real standout for me – I loved the heavy, nigh-Swedish opening and the melodic verses and chorus. I especially loved the surprise mosh riff in the bridge leading to the chorus, and the breakdown/solo combo in the last half of the song. The album closes up with “The Wasteland”, which is a fitting outro, successfully combining all of the elements exemplified before it. Overall, the theme is very consistent, contemplating the end times and the hardships that mankind has created for itself, yet it manages to handle this in a more positive fashion than most.
I feel like Shadows Fall successfully tried to channel their abilities when they wrote Fire From The Sky, and the talent they possess is unmistakable. Brian Fair’s mid-range screams are as aggressive as ever, while the clean parts and vocal harmonies are very well done. Jonathan Donais and Matt Bachand are still playing at peak performance, and in my opinion, the songwriting was more staunch than in recent years, utilizing their skills to their full extent. Donais showcases some truly tasty solos on the record, and Bachand’s backing death growl makes more than a few appearances. Paul Romanko’s bass rhythms are solid and effective, and Jason Bittner’s rapid thrashy beats and punishing double bass ensure the drums remain one of the greatest assets of the band – there are even a couple of short blast beats thrown in for good measure.
When all is said and done, Fire From The Sky is the strongest album we’ve seen from Shadows Fall in some time. I say that as a person who recognizes the skill the band has had throughout their career, but hasn’t maintained the same excitement since The War Within. It still hasn’t dethroned The Art Of Balance as my album of choice from their catalog, but I would gladly recommend this to any self-respecting metal head, and I’d like to assure people who have shared my opinion that this is a noteworthy release. I can honestly say that Shadows Fall is a band that can proudly represent American metal – you’d do well to get into it.