Album Review: LUNAR SHADOW The Smokeless Fires
Metal thrives on sonic cross-breeding. It explains metal's vibrant culture and is one of the two elements that explain the tension at the core of the scene: tradition vs. innovation. There are a couple of ways to innovate, one is to veer into the avant-garde and the other is to blend existing styles. Germany's Lunar Shadow claims to blend classic heavy metal and Scandinavian black metal. Sounds interesting!
Traditional metal is having a bit of a moment lately so it is certainly an opportune time for Lunar Shadow to put out their second album. When listening to their latest album, The Smokeless Fires, the classic metal certainly comes across. There's plenty of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the excellent musicianship on display. The production is clear, warm and provides the perfect atmosphere. The band has a good mind for dynamics, giving the album plenty of variation in tempo, thus providing the listener with dramatic shifts between fast rockers and slower ballads.
Yet, I'm not really sure where the black metal comes in. At most, many of the guitar harmonies remind me of Dissection, particularly the bridge on "The Somberlain." There's perhaps some Unanimated, Naglfar, and Windir as well, but only if you squint hard enough. (Can you squint with your ears? Don't answer that.) But otherwise, there doesn't seem to be much northern darkness present here. However, there is still a lot of Scandinavian metal here: Swedish melodic death metal and its derivatives. More specifically, there's a lot of Dark Tranquility, Soilwork, and Scar Symmetry to be heard in the drumming, song structures, and the guitar riffs—that's cool! It's just not exactly what they advertise about themselves. Maybe it's really what inspires them, but it's buried enough that their music comes across more like just beefed-up trad metal.
Singer Robert Röttig does a solid job channeling Bruce Dickinson and a host of other classic vocalists on this album. But in many instances, he comes across as too restrained. He uses his falsetto a few times, and adds some gravel to his voice here and here. And his standard vocal delivery is enough to carry the listener through the record, but this is metal. If a vocalist isn't going to scream or growl, they need to do something else to make the singing match the drama expressed through the other instruments.
The album's two strongest moments come on "Roses" and "Laurelindórenan." The first is an infectious and anthemic tune, filled with memorable lyrics ("seven sins and seven lies") and almost radio-ready structure. The second is the all-out epic in terms of guitar work. The band uses every weapon in its arsenal here. The vocals are at their best, the soloing totally rules, and there's a glorious chugging section that recalls In Flames' "Dialogue With the Stars" in its irresistible energy.
The Smokeless Fires should be pleasing for fans of the trad metal resurgence, along with anyone who wants to hear what Reroute to Remain would sound like with clean vocals. I raise my glass to Lunar Shadow for smashing these sounds together, without accidentally turning into a power metal band. That's an achievement all its own.
Favorite songs: "Roses," "Catch Fire," and "Laurelindórenan"