Lunar Shadow - Far from Light - (9/10)
Published on February 27, 2017
Current metal subgenres are heavily standardised. Especially popular hybrids like power metal, melodic death metal or folk metal tend to confine themselves to relatively narrow and predictable stylistic boundaries. Before even listening, you have a good idea of what such artists sound like. Most of the time, younger outfits seek to emulate the work of household names that achieved their position of fame by standardising early in the game. As a result, all of these subgenres have become incredibly boring. Elaborate gimmicks and the introduction of non-metal novelties are the only factors preventing their implosion.
Luckily, a countermovement is on the rise. Uniting under the banner of traditional metal, true metal or just plain heavy metal, a new generation of bands wants to take us back to the times (and places) when the genre was known for its adventurous musicality. There have been many such moments in metal history: Britain in the early seventies (before the explosion of arena metal); the peak of the NWOBHM (1979-1982); The Americas and continental Europe in the mid-1980s (before the standardisation of glam and thrash metal) and Scandinavia in the early to mid-1990s (before the mass-produced sterility of “modern metal”). During these times, metal musicians were looking for ways to expand the genre without losing their identities within the larger worlds of pop and rock. What set them apart were violent strokes of genius, an endless desire to push the envelope, a reckless lust for life and a strange fascination with death. Rather than the emulation of past sounds per se, reconnecting with these ideals should become the guiding principle of true heavy metal.
So far, bands striving towards such levels of authenticity have mainly come from the United States. I will forever praise American acts like Hammers of Misfortune, Pharaoh and Argus for proving that contemporary metal can be just as great as the classics. Mainly because of its extensive festival circuit dominated by near-mainstream record labels, Europe has been lagging behind in this respect. Perhaps talented groups such as Quicksand Dream and Atlantean Kodex are the beginning of a turnaround. And it’s no coincidence that both converge on Cruz Del Sur music, the small Italian label that also released modern classics by the above-mentioned American bands. Another contender that may further the European catch-up effort is Lunar Shadow. Hailing from Germany, this energetic five-piece just unleashed one hell of a debut album through Cruz Del Sur.
The name of Lunar Shadow’s first album ‒ Far From Light ‒ sums up the listening experience quite nicely. Although it sounds deceptively light in some places, the record takes you on a dark and heavy journey along several stations in metal’s storied past, incidentally revealing the future as well. The band self-consciously describes its music as a mix of Dissection, Wishbone Ash, old In Flames and Judas Priest. This means the galloping riffs and pronounced harmonies of the NWOBHM are combined with the minor scale obsessions and tremolo leanings of mid-nineties Scandinavian metal. The compositions are extended and well-structured, but they retain a certain looseness facilitated by natural sound effects, acoustic passages and wild soloing. Adding to Lunar Shadow’s 70s appeal are the frequently harmonized vocals, which effectively hold the middle between boisterous pub rock and soothing folk. You guessed it, this is epic stuff, made by Germans who are unafraid to throw the occasional curveball.
The eight tracks on Far From Light render tribute to the so-called mixed approach. While each composition is different from the next, together they present a unified aesthetic. “Hadrian Carrying Stones” is one of the best openers I’ve heard in a long time. Multiple variations on the pre-chorus and chorus riffs give this lengthy song an excellent sense of forward motion. “They That Walk The Night” is good example of Lunar Shadow’s melodic grandeur. Its folksy harmonies and emphatic bass rhythms bring to mind England’s Dark Forest. “The Hour Of Dying” is another ambitious track, in which broken chords and melancholic strumming patterns collide with harsh vocal experimentation. I could go on about the doomy vibe on “The Kraken”, the thrashing winds of “Cimmeria”, or the Tolkienesque balladry of “Earendil”, but the overall point should be clear by now. Like all great bands of the past, Lunar Shadow is eminently capable of uniting the light and the shade. One moment you are captivated by displays of refined erudition, and the next you are knocked down with barbarian bluntness.
Far from Light will make you forget about the mediocrity that plagues the European scene today. Both musically and lyrically, it is able to go head to head with Sumerlands, The Armor of Ire, Hellfriends and all the other American records that made such a splash last year. Surely, this will turn out to be one of the more interesting releases of 2017. 40 years after its inception, heavy metal is undergoing yet another revival. Don’t pass up the opportunity to witness it first-hand. Or better still, pick up your instrument and contribute to its glory.