Occasionally a blessing, but more often a curse, great expectations are thrust upon those who possess extraordinary talent and musical foresight. Given this reality, gifted musicians must continually elevate their performance to make relevant music, thereby satisfying both their audience and themselves as artists. Shadows Fall understand this concept and enjoy the challenge of achieving that delicate balance between sonic brutality and beauty. The band's third album, The Art Of Balance, reaches that often-desired-yet-rarely-obtained equilibrium.
Rare is the hard rock band that can serve three masters successfully, but Shadows Fall can, thanks to their richly textured songs. An 8-minute metal epic is sandwiched between 4-minute rock anthems and moshworthy breakdowns. Put simply, The Art Of Balance is heavy metal for rock fans, rock for heavy metal fans, and rock and heavy metal for the hardcore fans.
"We are a better band now," explains guitarist Matthew Bachand. "This time, instead of eight Gothenburg death metal songs, we have ballads, rock songs, thrash tunes." Lead guitarist Jonathan Donais adds: "Each track has its own identity. It's more structured, more melodic, more rock - but its still heavy. We'll never stray from that."
Forming six years ago, Shadows Fall released Somber Eyes To The Sky on Bachand's own Lifeless Records. Shortly thereafter, the band changed singers, choosing former Overcast throat Brian Fair. Of One Blood, their first record for Century Media Records, is hailed as a melodic-yet-thrashy classic. The album owned the #1 slot at metal radio for weeks on end, inspiring an almost cult-like underground following and glowing critical acclaim. Even MTV recognized Shadows Fall's accomplishments with a `You Hear It First' feature.
Most importantly, Shadows Fall logged countless miles in their tour van, trekking across the United States with the likes of Hatebreed, In Flames, Glassjaw, and Nevermore, slagged it out in Europe with Kittie (who personally selected the band as tourmates), and shared the stage with Pantera and Slayer at Japan's notorious `Beast Feast'. Time spent on the road coupled with carnage-producing live energy brought the band in tune with one another to write The Art Of Balance.
Despite all this activity and accomplishment, The Art Of Balance is essentially Shadows Fall's coming out as a unit. "This is the first real Shadows Fall record of new songs to which the entire lineup contributed," said vocalist Brian Fair.
The opus was recorded at Planet Z in the bands home state with producer Zeuss (Hatebreed, God Forbid). Having produced Of One Blood, the band considers the knob-twiddler a sixth member of their crew as he knows the band inside out, from the main artery to the smallest cell.
In the context of the band's unwavering commitment to heaviness, Fair's lyrical inspiration and execution remains poignant. "It's the idea of oneness and unity between all people and all things," explains Fair. "It's the idea that all systems begin from the same spark and it's something we get further away from. We're all in this together."
It's this idea of unity that made Jason Bittner (a New York-based drummer formerly of Stigmata) realize he needed to take a permanent seat behind the drum kit for band. While some of the record was written prior to his joining the band, he was able to put his own stamp on the material. "Every single song is a drum exercise for me - when do I get to rest?" he laughs. He ultimately believes that we made a record "that will be significant in metal history. That's how I feel about it, and not because I am in the band."
Ultimately, The Art Of Balance is about songs, not parts. But the parts - traditional thrash riffs, a rhythm section so thunderous it could replace your heartbeat, a three-tiered vocal attack that could frighten the sinners in hell and excite the saints in heaven, guitar wizardry that will inspire future prodigies to pick up axes - are unified and balanced. The Art Of Balance is eclectic and confident, from the raise-your-fist-in-the-air-rock dynamos like "Thoughts Without Words" and "Destroyer Of Senses," to the moshpit gem "Stepping Outside The Circle," to the voracious cover of Pink Floyd's "Welcome To The Machine," where the band truly makes the song their own.
Balance is difficult to master, but for Shadows Fall, the battle and the effort have been worth it. The Art Of Balance is the living, breathing proof of that.