Back in the very early ’80s, a bunch of guitar bands were busy diluting the aggression of punk and turning it into something more palatable for middle-class art students. It became known as New Wave.
Around the same time, some rather more hirsute individuals decided instead to utilise the aggression of punk within their Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath-influenced heavy rock. With a rather cunning play on words, it got labelled the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. It gave us Iron Maiden. Some people still haven’t gotten over it…
And now, ladies and gents, we have (fanfare plays in the background) the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal. Of course, it’s not very New (more of which, later), it’s not entirely American (one of the principal exponents is In Flames – they’re Swedish), but it is most resolutely Heavy Metal. The question is, is it any good?
In the case of Massachusetts mob, Shadows Fall, the answer is frequently, albeit with the caveat that when you’ve heard one Shadows Fall song you’re not a million headbangs from having heard them all.
The musical template that Shadows Fall use is easy to describe: galloping, pummelling double bass-drumming; technical, widdly guitar solos; vocals that are mainly shouted but can switch to fairly melodic, particularly during the choruses… Oh, and riffs. Plenty of huge, head-burrowing, haranguing guitar riffs.
If this sounds a bit familiar to you, then that’s because, essentially, this is mid to late ’80s thrash given a bit of a nose-wipe and wash of the long hair. It uses the framework laid down by early Metallica, the speed of Slayer, the technical wizardry of bands like Death, and somehow ends up sounding not too dissimilar to more obscure but excellent bands like Believer.
Now, this isn’t necessarily meant as a criticism. After all, if Jet, The Darkness, and every “The” band you can think of out of New York, can ape everyone from The Beatles to AC/DC, and us love them for it, then there’s no reason why heavy metal shouldn’t have its equivalent.
And when Shadows Fall get it right, they really get it right, as heard in the monstrous, chugging groove of Enlightened By The Cold and Inspiration On Deman; the massive mid-section of What Drives The Weak complete with machine gun-sounding, stop-start riffs and rhythm; and the exceedingly heavy Power Of I And I, where the riffage quality is so high that upon listening I almost wished I had long hair again. I said, almost…
Occasionally the hurtling express train comes off the rails, as in the Ghosts Of Past Failures, whose attempt at a crowd-pleasing chorus comes across as a little bit too cheesy for this reviewer’s sensitive palate. I’d also argue that the song quality is not as consistently up there with those found on Killswitch Engage‘s stellar album from earlier this year.
However, for a dose of no-nonsense, heads down, riff-tastic heavy metal, you could do a lot worse. It may not be a classic, but with its harking back to many of the greats of heavy metal, The War Within is classically very good.