Wow. If I left it at that I think you would get the point, but because I love this album so much I will elaborate. Simply put, Shadows Fall's new album "The Art of Balance" is an instant classic, and easily supplants their New England brothers in Killswitch Engage and Hatebreed as the best album I have received in 2002. Their last album itself was an amazing album, but this is such a step up from "Of One Blood" in every aspect of the album, the vocals, the music, the song writing, the production, everything. It's an unbelievable step that I think is going to take them some places.
I really like the flow of this album. "Idle Hands" kicks off with some death metal growls and then pretty much blows you away. "Thoughts Without Words" keeps up the pace and provides an awesome breakdown at the end. "Destroyer Of Senses" is simply brutality with a groove, I love this song, very early Metallica. "Casting Shade" serves as an intro to what is my favorite track on the album, "Stepping Outside The Circle," which also appears on the "Fear Will Drag You Down" import in a demo version. Amazing song, heavy, killer ending. Next up is the Shadows Fall power ballad, well, as close to a power ballad as Shadows Fall is going to get anyway, the title track "The Art of Balance." This song is much slower and more melodic then the rest of the album, which to the average metalhead may be a turn off, but they keep the Shadows Fall feel to it. I love, love this song. It's almost comparable to Metallica's "The Unforgiven" in terms of placement on a heavy album. The pace picks up next with "The Mystery of One Spirit," which has a vintage Shadows Fall feel to it with a cool intro leading into Brian's screams. After a slower paced buildup, they explode into "The Idiot Box," followed by one of the most creatively and perfectly named "Prelude To A Disaster," which serves as an intro to the over seven minute epic "A Fire On Babylon." This one has a European feel to it at times, moreso than any of the other songs on the album, and is a good finish to the album. The album isn't actually over yet, there is one last treat left for us, a cover of the Pink Floyd classic "Welcome To The Machine." One of the cool things about covers is that most of the time, bands leave their own mark on the song. That is definitely the case here.
Vocally, Brian Fair is pretty much in a league of his own. He does more clean singing on this album then he did on "Of One Blood," and I like the fact that he does more this time because I love his vocals. I am definitely not taking anything away from guitarists Matt Bachand and Jonathan Donais though, because I love songs like "The First Noble Truth" from "Of One Blood," but with this album he becomes more of a backing vocalist instead of being featured, which when you have a lead singer is kind of the way it should be. Brian just rips on this album. Getting back to the production, the vocals are much more clean and crisp. On "Of One Blood," the growlier vocals were a little muffled at times, but this album is a 200% improvement over that. Lyrically, it's Shadows Fall: thought provoking, introspective, meaningful lyrics. In my opinion, lyrics are what separates the good bands with the great bands. Shadows Fall separates themselves in a major way.
Musically, oh man, I don't even know where to begin. Let's just say the art of the guitar solo has not been lost! There are solos laced throughout the album, some taking up good chunks of the song like in "Thoughts Without Words." It's almost refreshing to hear, as so many bands it seems have forgotten the art of the true solo. The music fits perfectly with the dynamics of the songs, thrashy when it needs to be, slow when it needs to be, etc. It might not be as technical as a band like Meshuggah, but in a way that almost makes it easier/better to listen to. I mean lets face it, I don't always want to bust out my calculator when listening to music. The drumming also sticks out on this album. I am not the type of person who listens to an album for the drumming, but with this album I can. To me drumming is something I hear but don't look for, but you can't help but noticing it here. Tons of double bass, very driven when it needs to be, just great work. More praise for the production: you can make out every instrument, the lead guitars, rhythm guitars, bass, drums, it's all very clear and distinguishable. Some albums it's all kind of jumbled together, but that is definitely not the case here. All and all it's simply unbelievable.
I think one of the great things about "The Art of Balance" is its' accessibility. This is a band that could get play on MTV and mainstream radio without changing a single thing, and I think with time it will. There is something there for everyone. With this album, Shadows Fall has a chance to do for American metal what Metallica did in the early 80's by re-energizing it with some originality and with bands like Killswitch Engage, God Forbid and Lamb Of God also leading the charge, they will help bring American metal some much needed respect. "The Art of Balance" is an amazing album that any thrash metal fan MUST own. I think with a little more time it very well may become my favorite album, period. It's just that damn good.
"Stepping Outside The Circle"
"Thoughts Without Words"
"Destroyer Of Senses"
"The Art Of Balance"
"Welcome To The Machine"