Album Review: Shades Of Sorrow – Dropping The Dead Weight

by Mark Laffin

There is one major thing that bothers me about this album. I’m going to get it off my chest right away, and then I’ll agree to move on to explain why it is actually quite good. The production of this recording is extremely thin. The reason I make a point to mention this right off is because it’s the very first thing I notice upon listening to it. At first I thought this may have been done by design. I thought they may have been attempting a raw, rough-around-the-edges type of approach with the recording to add a layer of edge to the sonic quality. Then upon listening to it again, it doesn’t even sound like that at all. The music itself aside, the sound of this album is just very cold and comes off as rather amateur. Coming from a strong punk rock background myself, I am very akin to the idea of calculated underproduction. Many artists are defined by their unrefined and coarse methods of capturing their intensity to tape. The Stooges have the most violently produced albums you could ever listen to, but that’s how their live esthetic was best harnessed and presented on a recorded format. When it comes to metal however, with the many layers of musical textures and technical precision, a band is usually better represented with a more polished sound. Although this can certainly by done to excess, and with exceptions to maybe some crust metal or grindcore, with metal you generally want to hear everything going on in the mix.

Ok, I’m happy now with that being cleared up. On a more positive note, upon listening to New Brunswick’s Shades of Sorrow, I really get a strong impression of a group of kids growing up listening to Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Pantera. Their esteem for this music shines through here as it arrogantly eschews recent trends and develops into a vigorous piece of classic sounding metal with some serious groove. I love how you can hear some various influences which are so tastefully engaged, yet they don’t sound particularly like any one or two bands. While many of the sounds explored here are not terribly original, they’ve somehow managed to cultivate a musical formula using those shades of familiarity to offer something surprisingly refreshing and flowing with aggressive vitality. Unlike some of their peers, the band doesn’t sound at all like they’re trying to fit into any specific sub-genre or conform to any particular trend. Despite its studio shortcomings, the earnestness and sincerity in this music is very distinguished, and the band sounds exceptionally comfortable with what they’re doing. All the elements of great metal are present here: heavy and melodic guitar riffs, blistering solos and dense polyrhythms accented with vocals that although are very pronounced and clear, do not come up short in vitriolic resolve.

“From The Ashes” is the opening track which is a moody and melodic instrumental piece with lots of effective atmosphere and layered guitar lilts all soundtracking the apocalypse in tandem. “Ray of Light” is a heavy, chugging affair with a mechanical like rhythm and a deeply arresting groove that almost has a slight straight-up rock feel to it. It almost sounds like it could be a subtle homage to Corrosion of Conformity. The song’s syncopated flow keeps it interesting, leading up to the face-melting solo. The double bass drum gets an impressive work out on “The Chosen”, which is also highlighted by a very infectious guitar riff. “Web of Lies” features a chorus that is uniquely catchy without being trite, and an old-school modal riff borrowed from the Mercyful Fate canon. The middle part of the song is underscored with a vocal performance that strongly evokes Dave Mustaine. “Fallen Angel” is intensified with an irresistible hook that conjures ominous tones of doom and despair. While the first half of this album is a stellar showcase of malevolent antipathy bonded with heavy and rhythmic artistry, the record unfortunately hits a few minor snags into the latter half. “On The Edge” is a banal, almost nu-metal like debacle that borders on cringe-worthy with its vapid and uninspired lyrics. Mind you, the band’s lyrics overall are certainly not a strong point, but this song in particular is a trenchant display of this small downfall. Fortunately, metal lyrics can usually get away with being a little silly, which happens to be the case with most of this record. The other point that has me somewhat perplexed is the closer, “When The Rain”. I fucking swear this song is an honest-to-god 80’s power ballad with no shortage on the cheese. Although, at the same time I have to admire the audacity of such a bold inclusion.

Dropping The Dead Weight shows much promise for this band. Despite a few drawbacks, this is a fairly solid effort that offers a panoramic display of sincere metal virtuosity. Most of the tracks exhibit a tasteful ingenuity and an accomplished sense of song structure and flow. The best of the songs here sound naturally inspired, spontaneous and possess a quality that doesn’t come off at all as forced or manufactured. The overall sonic landscape is enriched with convincing hooks, honest deliberation and a passionate urgency that is much lacking with the more marketable metal bands today. Perhaps something they could work on further would be their songwriting. It is mostly terrific, but evidently they didn’t have enough great songs to make up an entire album and the flow of the record is somewhat compromised as a result. Should they be more meticulous with their song selection for their next outing, this could prove the band to be a tour de force in the East coast metal community. I would also urge these guys to really try to improve the production quality of their next effort, so their musical prowess is more justly exemplified. If you can get yourself past the poor production value, prepare for an onslaught of caustic metal fury that is truly a homogenous mix that blends elements of thrash and classic metal, all with a slight stoner-rock swagger and infused with inspired symmetry.


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