It often seems like some of the most unique and exciting albums often fall under the radar for reasons that absolutely confound me. With some bands, you could argue that their sound is too unorganised, they demand too much from your typical listener. Some might be just too unique, throwing off people who don’t really appreciate things that sound so alien. Then of course, other bands might just be considered gimmicky. Well, whatever it is, GARDEN OF SHADOWS don’t do it, yet they still manage to be massively overlooked and underappreciated as a band. With “Oracle Moon” they released an album that has a remarkable atmosphere, a solid and refined sound and an album that is hugely dynamic and exciting from start to finish. But yet it is still is oddly digestible despite the average length of the songs being around the nine minute mark.
What GARDEN OF SHADOWS bring to the table that most other Melodic Death metal bands do not is their ridiculously rich atmosphere. The keyboards giving an enchanting yet haunting backdrop for the guitars to weave a plethora of melodies and technical riffs around, couple that with the deep, guttural vocals that mould into the sound and you have a completely unique and stylistic sound that no other band can mimic. The production is clear as a whistle, the drums being just high enough to pack a punch without being dominant, the keyboards never really taking the front seat but never being drowned out by the constant rhythmic variation from the guitarists. What is most astounding is just how atmospheric the album is, which is not really a trait that you would consider alongside this often formulaic and simple genre. GARDEN OF SHADOWS mould around often progressive song structures and technical riffs without losing it, and that is probably their greatest strength as a band. It helps that the lyrics are both poetic and matching to the character of the songs, often including words that you will have never heard before giving the band an aura of mystery and elegance.
At no point in “Oracle Moon’s” fifty-three minute long play time does it drag, which is almost solely down to the song writing prowess of the band. Songs develop into huge climaxes, amazing interludes and huge memorable sections without even the hint of a chorus creeping in. Melodic guitar leads, huge booming vocals or enchanting keyboards, it doesn’t matter, something will almost always stand out at any moment in time in any of the songs. GARDEN OF SHADOWS have such a tight grip on their style that they can throw in atmospheric keyboard interludes or very technical riffs without worrying about hurting their identity in any way.
Another thing that GARDEN OF SHADOWS have developed well is their use of dynamics. Songs can transition smoothly from quiet, enchanting moments of pure beauty into powerful and forceful sections without being forced or unnecessary. The songs don’t drag, they don’t feel overdeveloped or anticlimactic, and each one delivers in its own different way. Be it “Continuum” with its harmonised guitar work and explosive ending, or “Disillusion of the Forms”, which develops into a slow and powerful melancholic ending. It is for this reason that it is so hard to pick out highlights, focusing on the atmosphere like this band does makes it hard to really make your songs sound majorly different, but thankfully GARDEN OF SHADOWS are in no formulaic or samey. GARDEN OF SHADOWS do not unload their entire arsenal in one song, instead choosing to make sure that each one has something different to offer the listener.
If that doesn’t impress you enough though, you can be assured in the fact that the riffs in “Oracle Moon” are nothing short of magical. The keyboard work is nothing short of sensational and the drumming varied and consistently impressive throughout. You can listen to any of the songs and be blown away by separate things in each, magnificent melodies and riffs. Epic synth and keyboard work, technically impressive guitar use. GARDEN OF SHADOWS impress in every way, there is not a single bad thing in their sound. No inconsistencies in their style, no imperfections. Their sound is completely worked and developed to perfection, which means that you as a listener can enjoy every single second of this release.
It is with that then, that I come round to my initial point. That despite doing absolutely nothing wrong, GARDEN OF SHADOWS falls under the radar, probably pushed aside by the next in fashion generic band. It astounds me that a band like this did not receive more attention. This is certainly one of the most impressive melodic death metal albums that I have ever heard. Full of progressive touches, technical flair and most of all a perfect consistency, “Oracle Moon” is an album that excels in every way possible. Call yourself a fan of any sort of Metal, then this is an experience you will not want to miss, for that is what this album is; a unique experience, one that you will not find very often.
(Online April 9, 2009)