I've been listening to a lot of great metal this year. A lot of it is fairly experimental and unusual. In that context, every time I turn back to Shadows Fall's Fire From The Sky, their sound comes across as gleefully formulaic. Not exactly metalcore-by-numbers, but not trying to redefine anything either. But it's only when you stack up Shads' latest work against another metalcore album (or better yet, their last album Retribution) that you get to hear just how much they've grown and expanded their sound. Sure, they're not forgetting where they've come from with tracks like Divide And Conquer. But this album boasts other influences as well (with hints of Machine Head, Gojira, Prong, and Arch Enemy, just to name a few), while showcasing better performances from everyone. Without too much fanfare, Shadows Fall has given us their strongest album yet, one that pushes their own boundaries while still delivering the goods that we come to expect.
What, then, to make of Jeff Loomis's second album, Plains Of Oblivion? Like the Shadows Fall, it too is an improvement over its predecessor. And it's undeniably fun to listen to, assuming of course that you like blistering lead guitars. Because ultimately, that is the raison d'être of this album; it is a well-crafted series of excuses to unleash the fury of the guitar gods. (Seriously: The Ultimatum.) The same could be said of his first solo album, Zero Order Phase, but this time around Loomis went the extra mile and got Marty Friedman, Tony MacAlpine, and Chris Poland to guest-shred. That makes this album a towering achievement in the annals of guitar wankery, which is definitely a contribution I applaud. That also means it's susceptible to attack from any other band made up of people who, failing to practice their arpeggios daily, have to instead resort to songwriting or emotion.
All hail Shads! They'll come back in three weeks to challenge Gojira. Next week: Enabler versus Kreator.