Were you one of those people that wrote off SHADOWS FALL after the release of their major-label debut, "Threads of Life"? Were you certain that said album marked the band's death knell for metallic relevance? I must admit that I was one of those people. Well, maybe not "written off," but I certainly ceased holding them in high regard or for that matter paying any attention to them. Or maybe I just didn't give "Threads of Life" enough attentive spins (I never ended up reviewing it). Whatever the case, I'm here to tell you that SHADOWS FALL is back and better than ever. "Retribution" is a blockbuster American metal album and demonstrates that the band not only kicks copious amounts of ass, but also includes within its ranks some of the best players and songwriters in the business.
On "Retribution", SHADOWS FALL sounds like a band with a chip on its collective shoulder and something to prove, almost as if to reply to the naysayers with a resounding "Not so fast; we ain't dead, ya know!" It is an album made of those distinctively thick 'n thrashy riffs, as well as Brian Fair's mighty roar and increasingly versatile voice. It is also an album that deftly balances infectious melodies with monstrous aggression. Much of that aggression has to do with the sheer number of great riffs from Matt Bachand and Jonathan Donais. As with any great guitar-based heavy metal album, Donais' solos reach 90th percentile heights in both skill and ferocity. Finally, the dexterity and fleet footedness of Jason Bittner continues to be largely unmatched.
The songs are smartly arranged, while the melodies are deep and impacting without ever seeming contrived over slickly commercial. You need only listen to "My Demise" — the first proper song after acoustic intro "The Path to Imminent Ruin" — once to know that the band has returned to reclaim the modern metal throne. It is one of a handful of lengthy tracks that is brilliantly composed, catchy as hell, vocally diverse (barks, growls, cleans, etc), and crunchier than your mom' peanut brittle. The same goes with "Still I Rise", which is most representative of SHADOWS FALL's uniquely melodic style.
Ah hell, we're only up to the fourth track here, "War" (which happens to be the album's heaviest, balls to the wall brawler) and I'm realizing that it is pointless to continue the track-by-track analysis because each one is deserving of some level of praise. Sure, "A Public Execution" is a tough tune, but not as tough as "War", and "King of Nothing" (with guest vocals from LAMB OF GOD's Randy Blythe) boasts a melody that is strong, but not as strong as "Picture Perfect"; what matters is that every one of them is good.
Time will tell whether folks consider "Retribution" on par with "The War Within" and "The Art of Balance", but as of this writing I'm thinking that it's right up there with both of them.