LUNAR SHADOW – Wish to Leave (2021)REVIEW

Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.” Robert E. Howard, Queen of the Black Coast

From a point of high fantasy at the end of a rope toward sentimental slice-of-life passages the non-traditional meandering heart of Siegen, Germany-borne heavy metal act Lunar Shadow is impatient by design, not for the sake of harried intensity but an eagerness to present their newest and freshest flow of ideas first. The quintet, whom feature guitarist, co-vocalist and key songwriter Max Birbaum as the central personality of this latest work, present their third full-length since forming in 2014 as a make-or-break transitional movement onto the next… Well, whatever may come next. ‘Wish to Leave‘ appears as a too-long hesitation at the door, packed and ready to go without confrontation yet stifled from moving beyond beloved traditional heavy metal for the sake of an emotional connection to the theatrical zeitgeist that’d sustained the project thus far. It is a remarkable half-step between worlds that often takes two steps back into epic heavy metal grandeur for effect yet it becomes clear that nothing short of a new horizon will sate whatever ambition pushes the artist away from comfort.

Each Lunar Shadow album has arrived eager to showcase some manner of new fusion, a new idea alongside what elements still represent the holistic voice of their discography. In the case of ‘Far From Light‘ (2017) it’d been for the sake of expanding the ideals posited on their first EP up toward a higher ‘modern’ professional standard and this made for a still-celebrated work within Germany’s epic heavy metal spheres. Optimistic twilight years, a fealty to high fantasy that’d bonded the artist to a modern New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal demographic, for better or worse. A sort of ‘progressive’ willingness to cross over into extreme metal influenced passions for effect lead to an oddly over-emphasized “blackened heavy metal” description of the band, we can debunk this through even the most casual listen. Their celebrated follow-up, ‘The Smokeless Fires‘ (2019) would reprise these moments with a more conservative hand. My review of that second work was conflicted, messy for the sake of seeing ‘Wish to Leave’ (or, something closer to Idle Hands) on the horizon and being yet unsure if the transition was for the sake of a commercial angle. As useless as this sort of forecasting is on my part, ‘The Smokeless Fires’ did appear to be on the verge of finding its way forward after just then finding an serious audience. Liken this thought to forecasting of recent pushes beyond the underground via Tribulation‘s move from death metal to blackened gothic metal, or the necessity of other professional opportunities overtaking In Solitude after their ‘Sister’ breakthrough & break-up. For what it is worth, ‘Wish to Leave’ album opener “Serpents Die” could just as well have fit onto either of those records yet Lunar Shadow provide their own ‘modern rock’ intimacy throughout this third album without losing the intrepid late 70’s heavy rock/metal guitar work they’ve become known for.

Is traditional heavy metal inherently inhuman? If the actor is not characteristically heroic then for what reason would he dress as an armored knight in his own play? The soft-rocking innovations of the Canadian provinces this last decade have opened various melodic doors to retro heavy metal and revealed a generation raised on modern machinations of post-punk and indie rock. Birbaum specifically cites early works from Interpol as an ideal or an inspiration that has long pulled his ear away from modern interpretations of classic heavy metal. A post-punk revival band writ by folks moving on from post-hardcore/screamo influencing an artist moving on from traditional heavy metal origins is both appropriate on paper and perhaps an overstatement for the sake of preparing an audience for what comes next. It is important to delineate between the origins of fully characterized post-punk in the late 70’s and its evolution throughout 80’s unto perfect spiralizing form versus “post-punk revival” which sought to commercialize and reinterpret post-punk through alternative rock in the late 90’s and through the first half of the 2000’s, projects from folks evolving beyond mid-to-late 90’s post-hardcore songwriting clichés. Indie rock is a far more complicated set of mannerisms to consider, ultimately we can suggest the usual gothic rock and “radio” post-rock avenues for modern metal aren’t considered on ‘Wish to Leave’, instead there is a downtrodden late 90’s “college rock” verve to this heavy metal album and it is particularly unique when fully expressed (see: “I Will Lose You”). Think of it as switching from Shōnen manga to slice of life anime, still characteristically dramatized work but now focused on poignant, believable reality rather than endless tragedian heroism — Give me a moment here, to go jump off a bridge after writing that. If we are to consider this approach as more “human” then we are suggesting that classic heavy metal and its fantasy parables of empowerment are either largely misunderstood, or veiled enough that lyrics derived from personal experiences are more accessible to folks drawn to emotionally sourced music. It would be fair to say that ‘Wish to Leave’ is certainly an emotionally guided experience for the sake of its dramatic modern rock/traditional heavy metal conglomeration though it is no less a “guitar album” despite the implied step down to streel level poetry. How does this actually manifest?

As much as I’d like to liken this sea change to late NWOBHM’s shift into stadium sized rock a la Persian Risk‘s ‘Rise Up‘ or earlier shifts towards radio rock seen via ‘Canterbury‘-era Diamond Head the implication would be more impersonally sourced than that’d suggest, and a bit out of touch with the major influences of ‘Wish to Leave’. The heavy metal obssessed listener will have to come to terms, sooner or later, that it were borne from a pointed hesitation away from crafting yet another New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal clichéd release, it certainly doesn’t intend to “keep it true” for the sake of anyone. Instead the main songwriter(s) present a meld of in-process ideas for a forked path: Stay the course and drown together or swim apart (and alone) into new waters. In this sense ‘Wish to Leave’ is an experience that embraces the anxiety of hesitation, ruminating upon personal relationships and ‘mundane’ moments which have great potential to become deeper symbols of purgatorial loneliness, veering between contented appreciation and quiet insignificance amidst greater internal passage (read: emotional maturation). Well, if I may be the devil’s advocate and sport a leather-jacketed heavy metal asshole point of inquest, why not go full blast indie rock/post-punk? The answer I’d pull from quite a few spins of ‘Wish to Leave’ is obvious: The guitar work really deserves this halfway-steeped ‘epic’ heavy metal/70’s heavy rock spectrum to stretch, clang, and adventure through the yarn which the composers are ‘ready known for. Much like our beloved fellowes in Spell, the vibe resultant is uncontrollably flowing and heady as all get out; There is no haughty commercial angle in hand but instead a focus upon sustaining thrilling (sometimes soft) rock guitar magic which stretches between points of emotional resonance in songcraft old and new. Riff #4 might be very 1985 NWOBHM, Verse #3 might be very 2001 post-punk, and the bluesy harmonized solo that bonds these moments is straight out of ‘Chinatown’ on a too-fast turntable but their coalesce would’ve been impossible to string together without post-2020 sentimentality scrambled brains.

What does style matter, anyhow? What feeling is conveyed and what chord does it strike? How does ‘Wish to Leave’ make you feel and is that feeling valuable and/or redeeming? We can so rarely ask these questions of traditional heavy metal and get any sort of divergent answer. Tired invagination unto opiatic escapism would be a primary personal response, an ease into fuzzy yet engaging strings of anthemic yet understated vocal pattern and charging-muted guitar heroism with the caveat of a certain, cuddly sensitivity. The warrior stops to smell the flowers and decides to return home, sell his armor and have a nice life… or, at least considers it between bestial encounters. “Delomelanicon” and “And the Silence Screamed” appear the most conflicted and questioning in this sense, jogging forth with purpose and kinda shredding but favoring a wilt away from weaponry. The aforementioned heart of change is felt more fully within “Serpents Die” and “I Will Lose You” but we find a most complete transformation in album closer “The Darkness Between Stars”, the exact right sort of punctuating moment that yet leaves the door unlocked behind its moody, spaced outro. Though it will read as a subtle heavy rock experience to start ‘Wish to Leave’ creates a tension, a tugging between worlds that is less physical than it is emotional in purpose and this will certainly prove challenging for folks uninterested in melodic rock. For my own taste the balance of style is just fine and the push-and-pull of it evocative enough yet the main reason I kept coming back to Lunar Shadow‘s latest was ultimately the surreal signature-yet-twisted display of fine guitar work in hand. Though I find emotional purgatory a waste of time, and charging towards true self-expression fearlessly most admirable, I appreciated having a bit of each sensation strike me throughout my time with ‘Wish to Leave’ and found it slightly more valuable than my time with ‘The Smokeless Fires’ previous. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Wish to Leave
LABEL(S):Cruz Del Sur Music
RELEASE DATE:March 19th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Heavy Rock/Heavy Metal,
Indie Rock/Post-Punk Revival

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