Shadow Of Intent - Reclaimer - (9/10)
Published on January 7, 2018
Metal is like any other musical expression, a band can play it just like everyone else, or they can fire up the SRB rockets and freewheel out into the cosmic abyss. One of the enduring criticisms of deathcore of its various shapes and sizes is that most of its affiliate bands either settled into an established orthodoxy from day one or decided to further dumb their sound down to garner even more commercial interest (*cough* Whitechapel), and it is a trend that has nevertheless been bucked by several outliers. Shadow Of Intent, despite have the prototypical look of a mid-2000s cliche of the style, are anything but and have shown the greatest immunity to predictability of any recent deathcore project. Their debut LP Primordial was an interstellar explosion of symphonic and technical splendor that caught a fair amount of attention a little over a year ago, but with the unleashing of the supernova of grandeur and brutality that is their follow up Reclaimer, a whole new category of cosmic catastrophe has been established that has all but rewritten the laws of astrophysics.
Taking some cues from the symphonic direction explored by Winds Of Plague a while back, and completely avoiding the monotony and over-emphasis on breakdowns to the point of having entire songs made of them, the approach taken here is extremely melodic but also quite technical and kinetic. Likewise, the excesses of various tech death-leaning outfits like The Faceless are generally avoided in favor of something that still trends towards a sense of groove and measured progression. In many ways the approach taken here could be likened to the way a melodic death metal band would approach a more brutally based style, having recurring and occasionally catchy melodic hooks that cycle through the various stages of order and chaos, along with an air of Neo-classicism that frequently chimes in whenever the piano and symphonic sections rear their heads. It’s all but the perfect balance of heaviness and serenity, as hyper-speed blasting and thrashing sections coupled with an array of inhuman barks, shrieks and growls lay on one end of things and the film score meets Beethoven orchestrations on the other.
Within the harmonized middle ground between various extreme metal influences that these songs exist is one enduring constant, the flash and flair of the guitar work. While most deathcore bands tend to keep their riffs dumbed down and emphasize all the technical wonderment in the drum work, this album spends most of its time showcasing a highly advanced degree of technical noodling and busy riff work at the upper end of the guitar’s range to both moderate and complement the low end chugging that tends to follow this style. Just about every song on here has a nice long guitar solo that showcases elements of Ralph Santolla and even Michael Romeo at times, with the opening song “The Return” alone being a masterwork of technical competency that functions as a sort of deathcore answer to symphonic power metal, complete with a Baroque harpsichord section. To be clear, there are still plenty of scaled back breakdowns and places where the noodling gets pulled back significantly, but they never dominate the listen and tend to come as brief respites between the volleys of notes and blackened death ravings of Ben Duerr, who somehow walked away from this album’s recording sessions with his powers of speech intact.
Highlight points in this extremely consistent collection of songs are difficult to identify, save maybe for the fact that a semi-frequent employment of guest vocalists adds an additional layer of diversity over an already highly varied stylistic blend. In the particular case of “The Catacombs”, Ingested vocalist Jason Evans brings a heavy degree of brutality that morphs an already brutal style into something a tad closer to where Pathology was on Throne Of Reign a few years ago, and the guitar backdrop is correspondingly heavier and more groove-based to give a bit more of a slam feel alongside the symphonic atmosphere and virtuoso musicianship. On a radically different note, the grindcore-infused vocal insanity on “The Gathering Of All” gets a boost from Russian screamer Alex Shikolai, and it is interesting to point out that the surrounding music sees a kick up in frenetic speed and riff work that shifts things quite close to The Black Dahlia Murder. A fellow deathcore vocalist from the American scene Tom Barber finds himself lending his pipes to “The Prophet’s Beckoning”, which is also heavily infused with consonant melodic work and even some cleaner gruff yells that has a strong Dark Tranquillity vibe to it at times.
For whatever individual quirks each song may possess, this overall feel of this album is one of militaristic precision and consistency that lands itself quite well to the band’s conceptual lyrical approach. Given the band’s strong obsession with video games and particularly the Halo series, it would behoove the good folk of the metal community to start inquiring as to why this band hasn’t been given their own Sci-Fi based first person shooter game to adorn their ingenious songwriting and performance. Speaking as someone who is only an occasional consumer of deathcore, the author of this review would like to note that this is not only the best thing to come out of said sub-genre this year, but is one of the better albums to come out of 2017 period. About the only negative aspect of this album is that it may turn off a fair bit of the more traditionally minded deathcore enthusiasts out there who want their breakdowns more often and can’t really handle all the fun that goes with shredding guitars, blistering speeds and a dense atmosphere, resulting in a greater appeal to fans of tech and melodic death metal strains. But if Master Chief only has to fend off a few slam and core holdouts, the days of the Covenant are shorter than everyone thought.