"We just wanted to write a full-on metal record," says Brian Fair, lead singer of SHADOWS FALL. "We were like, 'I don't care what's going on, nowadays — let's write some fucking metal!' I mean, that's always been our attitude, but this time we went even further into our rock and thrash roots."
"Threads of Life", the new album by SHADOWS FALL, is a bracing blast of extreme heavy metal, a heady brew of old-school sensibilities and cutting-edge hard rock delivered with passion, precision and a refreshing lack of pretension. Dubbed "the reigning purveyors of everydude metal" by Revolver magazine, the hard-touring, beer-chugging Massachusetts quintet has handily surpassed the high standards set by their critically feted 2002 release, "The Art of Balance", and its even-more-acclaimed 2004 followup, "The War Within" — the latter of which had sold over 270,000 copies to date, and received a Grammy nomination for the track "What Drives The Weak", amazing feats for an independent release. One of the original forces behind the New Wave of American Heavy Metal and undisputed leaders in that scene, SHADOWS FALL are currently on the verge of propelling themselves into the classic metal pantheon with "Threads of Life".
Produced for maximum sonic impact by Nick Raskulinecz (FOO FIGHTERS, STONE SOUR, RUSH) at Studio 606 in Los Angeles, "Threads of Life" is a masterful achievement by a band that continues to push the envelope artistically while remaining true to its core sound and audience. "Nick was able to get performances out of us that we didn't even expect from ourselves," Fair enthuses. "Structurally, we had worked out a lot of the stuff before we even got to the studio, but he really brought new life to things sonically — different layering of guitars, vocal harmonies that we wouldn't have thought of, great ideas like that."
For those who've already been paying attention, the band's continued musical growth won't come as much of a surprise — in terms of pure musicianship, SHADOWS FALL has long been one of the most highly respected bands in the metal community, boasting a lineup that could easily go toe-to-toe with rock's most legendary players. Guitarists Matt Bachand and Jon Donais are former guest columnists for Guitar World magazine, and the pair recently had the honor of being included in the mag's "Top 100 Guitarists of All Time" list. Bassist Paul Romanko is a regular contributor to Guitar World's Bass Guitar magazine, while drummer Jason Bittner pens a column for Modern Drummer, whose readers voted him "Best Metal Drummer" in year-end polls for 2005 and 2006. And with his four-foot-long dreadlocks, powerful vocals and commanding stage presence, Brian Fair — a frequent guest host on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball" — is one of the most charismatic and recognizable frontmen in metal.
All five members bring a wide variety of influences to the table, as well. "Jonny's always been into '80s metal and '70s rock," Fair explains. "Matt was really into death metal and grindcore back in the day, but he also likes all sorts of singer/songwriter stuff; Jay has a real prog background — he's a huge fan of RUSH and DREAM THEATER — and Paul's the old-school punk rock and hardcore dude. I kind of came up through '70s rock, and then found the hardcore scene, but I'd always been listening to a lot of jazz, reggae and spacey stuff."
But as with all great bands through the ages, when SHADOWS FALL make music together, the disparate influences and personalities somehow coalesce into a single vision. "There are really no egos in this band," affirms Fair. "We're always going to have the technical aspect of our music, because these boys can play. But we want to incorporate all of that into a song framework; it's all about trying to create the best song, and everyone understanding how they fit into it.
"Of course," he adds, "when it's time to let it rip, we let it rip!"
"Redemption" (audio), "Threads of Life"'s anthemic opening track and lead single, is a veritable crash course in SHADOWS FALL's patented mixture of metallic riffage, hardcore aggression, and melodic uplift. "This is the SHADOWS FALL sound condensed into four minutes," laughs Fair. "I think it's a perfect representation of what we do. And I think it really encapsulates the entire album, which is why we opened with it — it has a little bit of everything you're going to get in the next 45 minutes!"
"Final Call", the album's epic seven-minute centerpiece — which includes some spectacular twin-guitar shredding from Donais and Bachand — is a rallying cry for hope and togetherness in a time of cynicism and despair. "So many of the ideals and goals of our government seem to be so far from what I'm trying to accomplish in my life, that I feel like I've been exiled to my own little plane of existence," says Fair. "But at this point, I'm fine with it, because I think there are others who feel the same way, and I think there are more of them out there than people realize."
Fair's also not afraid to whip himself into a righteous rage when the situation calls for it. "Failure of the Devout", "Burning the Lives" and "Forevermore" all take lethal aim at those responsible for the current precarious state of the world, be it corrupt political systems or organized religion in general.
But the most powerful example of SHADOWS FALL's broadened musical, lyrical and emotional scope is "Another Hero Lost", an achingly heartfelt ballad inspired by the death of Fair's cousin, a U.S. soldier who was killed last year in Iraq. "We've always had those slower moments on our records, with songs like 'The Art of Balance' and 'Inspiration on Demand'," the singer explains, "but this was the most straightforward, melodic rock ballad we've ever done. I didn't want to take away from the tribute vibe to it by making it this brutal, crazy song; it had to be straight-up from the heart, and really pure and true. It's also the most personal song I've ever recorded. Lyrically, it's from my cousin's perspective, as well as just me sorting through the emotions that my family and I were going through at the time. The song has no political agenda, at all — it's just me remembering someone I grew up with, who meant a lot to me. I know a lot of people have been going through similar things recently, so I think it's a song they'll be able relate to. Hopefully, there won't have to be many more songs written about something like this."
Formed over a decade ago in Springfield, Massachusetts, SHADOWS FALL came up the hard way, playing weekend shows in New England basements, rec centers and even storage spaces for gas money. "We were all friends before we started this band," Fair recalls. "We all played in other bands that played with each other, and we had a very similar goal and vision in mind for what we wanted to accomplish together. We had that all-for-one, one-for-all attitude from the beginning, which is still how we do business — it's gotta be a unanimous decision before anything gets done."
That unity of spirit and vision came in handy, as SHADOWS FALL struggled to raise its profile beyond the Massachusetts metal scene. "We learned as we grew, just by stumbling through it on our own," Fair explains. "You learn what it takes to make this all work, which gives you a real respect for it. I think if you end up going from the practice space right onto a huge tour with a tour bus, it's easy to let the little things bother you, but we're just psyched for every little success we have; we remember what it was like when it was five stinky dudes living in a van for a month at a time, making fifty bucks a show and eating ramen every night. If you didn't do that, I don't think you really appreciate it when you end up with a dressing room full of free beer!"
The band's big break came in 2003, when they were offered a second stage slot on that summer's Ozzfest. The surprise hit of the second stage, SHADOWS FALL won over legions of young fans with the intensity of their musical attack; their ability to make even the biggest gig feel like a keg party free-for-all didn't hurt, either. "I think it opened a lot of peoples' eyes to see how many kids were coming out to the second stage just to see this indie band," says Fair. Two summers later, SHADOWS FALL made the leap to Ozzfest's main stage, where their incendiary performances converted even the hardened old-school metal fans who'd come to see IRON MAIDEN and OZZY OSBOURNE. Clearly, here was a band capable of carrying the torch passed to them by the old-school giants of heavy metal.
After an incredible run with independent metal label Century Media, "Threads of Life" marks SHADOWS FALL's major label debut on Atlantic Records. "We just look at it as another launching point, with more resources," Fair explains. "We were friends with people at the label before we even headed into a business relationship, so it's been comfortable from the beginning. They realize that we're a career band that's been doing this for a decade, and they just wanted to help us perpetuate that."
In other words, even with a new label, a tidal deluge of critical plaudits and a rapidly expanding audience, it's still business as usual for SHADOWS FALL — make a great record, and then hit the road to rock (and have a beer with) as many people as possible. "The original reason we got into playing this music was because it's fun," Fair laughs. "We just decided at one point, 'We're gonna get in the van, and we're gonna tour until we can't' — and it's actually paid off, which is unbelievable. We're just so psyched to be playing metal for a living."