SHADOWS – Shadows (2021)REVIEW

Man is the creature who cannot escape from himself, who knows other people only in himself, and when he asserts the contrary, he is lying.” Marcel Proust, The Captive and the Fugitive

Roughly twenty-eight years ago my elder brother had gone on a sort of spree of discovery within guitar-based music that’d include everything from ‘Dawn of Possession’ and ‘Master of Reality’ to uh, ‘Jackyl‘, that’d serve as a strong impetus for my exploration of music beyond the realm of radio rock and skate punk. In making my way through each of these tapes as a young kid it was the Giger illustrated copy of ‘III: How the Gods Kill‘ that’d grow new synapse in my mind connecting artwork, mood, lyrics and performances into a singular entity to appreciate and muse over. Though the drumming on that album is fantastic, it sticks with me for what horizon it’d extended in view of my still-developing mind. These roots of nostalgia, which we may or may not choose, often find us clinging to things we’d just as well never “grow out of”. Though it may look as if chasing the dragon of reinvigoration occasionally pulls artists away from their long developed specialties for the sake of variety, it is almost always for the sake of identity that nostalgia looms, burning in hand. Growth within the parameters of tradition is rarely satisfying for folks who’d seek another paradigm entirely void of comfort, at least with consideration for the mindset of the artist who’d always bent in their own unusual direction. For the sake of fusing together probable causation with inspiration, it’d make sense that musician Alex Bouks‘ wouldn’t reach for another death metal project after decades of off again/on again activity in Philadelphia underground act Goreaphobia, who’d moved into their own wilds as time marched on. The point I’m getting at here is that his latest project Shadows is inarguably something entirely different from the guitarist/songwriter who’d been associated with extreme metal since the late 80’s yet it appears the core result is an expression of revelatory roots — Not the sort of nostalgia that drives folks to create ‘worship’ albums for favorite artists but the sort that seeks to capture that mental breakthrough that’d sparked rabid exploration of music in the first place. This finds their debut EP, ‘Shadows‘, submitting a gloom rock experience that aims for the clarity of the greats of the mid-to-late 80’s, but of course with an odd bent to it that best represents Bouks and the fellowes he’s pulled in to add character and comfort to the experience.

Why does mention of Goreaphobia, and the inclusion of several former members, pique my interest? Despite undying love for classic early 90’s underground death metal releases the bold evolution of their later discography continues to be underrated, labeled as ‘too weird’ for classicists and man, I still get annoyed thinking about some of the critical reaction to ‘Apocalyptic Necromancy’ when it released. It also goes without saying that Immolation are the best death metal band of all time, and any association (Bouks has been in the band since 2016) catches my ear. None of this outrageous bias on my part factors into an examination of ‘Shadows’, though. Shadows is essentially a gothic rock influenced band that varies its stride between surreal heavy metal and doom rock; The beast that eventually forms is somewhat akin to the early Danzig album I’d mentioned previous. The twist upon tradition is their leaning into an exaggerated atmosphere of menace, an ominous crawl which pairs quite well with the gothic timbre of the vocals. Rhythm guitars slide easily between a sort of early Alice in Chains stamping gloom (“Shadows”), before shades of downtempo ‘Angel Rat’-esque epiphany (“Sea of Dust”) begin to peek through the fairly dominant vocal performances from Jake G., whom is a former Goreaphobia member I’m not aware of. His voice is generally consistent, a bit of Bobby Liebling and Grave Pleasures in terms of register, not perfect but always set upon a sort of “deadened but hearty” expression. No doubt the vocals will be the make-or-break element for most listeners due to how prominent their affect is.

“Ghosts of Old” is the hill to climb for my own taste, a droning and grinning song that haunts with its crooning malevolence. The lyrics appear as a blunt instrument until the perspective of the voice reveals itself. The shambling beat and tormented doom metal riffing nail the song down in between floaty, eerie sections where leads may as well be theremin tirades. The gloom of this song is a mile thick yet it took some time for it to sink in as I did my best to figure out just what the Hell Shadows were doing. The title track’s lumbering main riff and scrawling wah-tinged leads help to solidify the intended voice of the project, for a moment as it indicates some late 80’s heavy rock ideals but the landscape remains buried in a fog of 70’s and 80’s rock/metal signifiers. My favorite piece on the EP, “Night of the Goat Winter Moon” is equally ambiguous with its almost post-punk intro highlighting the fantastic drum performances on ‘Shadows’. The doomed dirge of the guitars, the Liebling-esque vocal melodies, and the clutch of the double bass placement in the mix glom into what I’d hope to be a signature piece for the band. As we round the last few pieces “Sea of Dust” begins to call for some different vocal texture or something to break up the oppressive moan that begins to persist as the mood of the EP. “Ancient Eyes” certainly mixes it up, perhaps calling upon the suggested Pink Floyd influences with a nearly ten minute long mood piece that features vocoder-salted vocals, spaced basslines, repetitive lead guitar jams, and well… it all certainly has a sinister-yet-floating quality that fits the direction of the album but the effect is basically filler.

At ~33 minutes there is essentially an album’s worth of material to consider here by modern standards, yet any insistence that we reach the 45 minute mark to hit a certain old standard might be overkill if the project reaches the full-length stage of development. Excising the odd juxtaposition of the sparkling “Ancient Eyes” might remove some of the additional interest and scope offered here but the full listen does become unfocused at that point. With that said I enjoyed every moment of ‘Shadows’ for what it was, once I’d figured my way through what it was. The production is slick and fully readable, just cold enough to escape a Halloween goth rock sound and just metallic enough that each riff is felt. If the ‘death metal’ intimacy of the drum presence can remain where it is while the layering of the vocals thickens with more frequent harmonization, they’ll have hit a pretty sweet spot for my own taste. An ideal introductory EP, generally stacked with morbid hooks that provide great incentive to revisit the full listen. I’d give moderately high recommendation of it.

Moderately high recommendation. (70/100)

Rating: 7 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Agonia Records
RELEASE DATE:February 26th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Doom Rock,
Heavy Metal,
Gothic Rock/Metal

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