It’d be a stretch to call anything Shadows Fall does “selling out,” but the band did make the leap to a major label with 2007’s Threads of Life, an album that featured a slightly more accessible version of the Massachusetts quartet’s patented metalcore attack, and certainly some of the most radio-friendly music the group had ever recorded. Well, that phase is over, and new Shadows Fall disc Retribution (released independently on the band’s own label) doesn’t sound at all like it was crafted for the radio, or for anyone other than the band’s dedicated fanbase.
For the most part, that’s a good thing. There’s a renewed energy and intensity to this album without losing the musical dexterity that the band has built up over time; songs are faster, heavier and darker, and a little less concerned with melody. With its chants of “Fuck it all,” “A Public Execution” strongly evokes the hardcore influences that helped shape the band’s early days (as does “War”), and lightning-fast death-metal drumming is prevalent throughout the album.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t space for a power ballad of sorts (“Picture Perfect”), although even that one has a serious edge to it. Shadows Fall has always been best at defining a balance among various metal styles both extreme and mainstream, and if Retribution sacrifices some of that balance, it makes up for it in renewed vitality.