From the release notes: “Out now as of May 7th, Nightshadow unleashes their next slab of infectious strong-hearted power-punching metal with their new full-length “Strike Them Dead” to follow their 2017 self-titled debut EP.”
Look at that album cover! A witch queen lopping the head off an undead warrior, whilst others crowd in menacingly! And that track list! This will either be a jaw dropping fusion of metal and fantasy, a pretentious pile of crap or a journey that tries hard to be epic all the way to the end, but fails and falls short.
Let’s see what the 10 tracks over 50 minutes has in store…
Actually, before I go any further, take this as a given, so I don’t repeat myself – quick and compelling instrumental intro; shift in character and complexity – faster or slower; lyrics about struggle, love and battle in fantasy realms; catchy, if somewhat disturbing, chorus; eargasm quality guitar solos and riffs; extended instrumental sections to signify a journey, a battle, or a journey to a battle, followed by a battle; plaintive, reflective, or angry vocals; then thrash or tinkle to the end.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s repetitive, but there’s enough variation that it doesn’t get boring or irritating.
Multiple guitars startled me. It felt like an old sound, but a fresh take on it. Then, the stampede began. Musically, there was always something going on. I was exhilarated by the guitar work – the technique was mind blowing. I could picture John 5 jamming with them, with a hairless cat on his lap. Yes, they’re THAT good. However, don’t get the impression that the bass and percussion are passengers to the process – more like evil partners that work somewhat in the shadows, intentionally.
The vocals were genre correct and they handled the high notes well. A nod to the gaming fraternity was evident in the lyric, “Roll the dice.” This whole album makes no bones about roots in popular culture, gaming and nerds.
“Witch Queen” cast an immediate spell, with a slower, percussion heavy intro. The guitars were slower and had a driving, staccato quality. But then… whoa… it slowed down, with the vocals assuming a gentle, crooning quality
It then kicked on, giving a battlefield air to the track. I marvelled at the guitars, the way that they had a sound that was close to the same as each other, but subtly different, that meshed to form something special. It was clear and comfortable.
I also have a confession to make. I did participate in the chorus of “Kill, kill, kill! Kill the Witch Queen!” I was somewhat ashamed. I don’t know this queen, let alone if she should be killed. I was carried away in the moment by the mob.
This track ebbed and flowed, a great example of melodic death metal. It closed with a sweet and subtle air.
“Ripper” was indeed one, in terms of its quality and that is was about one – Jack the Ripper. I wrote down “Holy Fast Fingers”. The guitars were supersonic, lending a different texture again.
It painted a powerful portrait of a serial killer, using disquieting lyrics and ideas such as, “It’s not my name, they only know my game. It’s all in fun, this carnage that I crave…” Because, serial killers are disturbing. As is enjoying the track is a little disturbing, I’d venture… again, I was guilty.
Fast riffs conveyed a sense of madness and when the track slowed, the vocals were like voices in your head. This was followed by a complete change in tone, with bass and percussion doing the heavy lifting. This was a showcase of supreme skills, with the multitude of tones and rhythms conveying the sense of a multi-act play.
“Love and Vengeance” stared sweetly, with acoustic guitars partnered by an electric guitar wailing overhead. Like a dragon. This track is about a dragon and an enchantress. The dragon was smitten by the enchantress. Enchantresses do that – because, they’re, well, enchanting. But, her “soul too pure, her skin too fair to rend” also meant that the dragon found a new peace in her love. His captivation with her soothed his soul.
The sound soon thickened. It was not driving, but more a tasteful elaboration. At 3:30 in, the pace shifted, as the enchantress is killed by the townsfolk. The dragon, losing his love, unleashes his vengeance. Townsfolk then discovered what the word “rend” means.
If you get the impression that this track is a little cheesy, then you’re right. But, cheese is great! It goes with anything.
“Children of the Night” opened with a riff that sounded like AC/DC’s opening to “Thunderstruck”. Cool! The Children of the Night are vampires, along the lines of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. AC/DC AND Dracula. This is awesome…
The lyrics expanded on the theme and the feeling of the track was appropriately secretive and sinister. Guitar and bass lines took on a simpler, throbbing theme, keeping everything in the shadows. It was a very different sound, relying less on speed. When some thrash arrived, it was done as an embellishment to the track.
“False Truths”opened in an honest and intricate manner, with layers like galloping percussion added slowly. The sound snuck up on me and it was thumping before I realised it. Subtle guitar effects were used to great effect and a chant-like chorus further added to the atmosphere.
Like other tracks, this one ebbed and flowed, settling down at the appropriate moment, before muscling up again.
“Strike them Dead” struck me with its furious opening, using the title of the track as an early chant. The duelling, furious guitars were soon used to great effect and this sound was employed brilliantly all the way through the track. It was fast and furious, but without pretentious bald guys.
There was a real sense of urgency that was grand in scale, giving the impression of a monstrous, bloody battle. It was powerful and poignant and as the proud sone of a returned soldier I really appreciated, “Raise a glass for the fallen, shed a tear for the dead.”
“Blood Penance” launched straight into the mischief, but with a subtle and menacing change to the vocals, before they shifted back to their usual tones. This was a track making a political comment about the elite of society.
Challenging lyrics abounded, including, “Your penance is now due… in blood… in blood… in blood…”
I found myself again lost in a focus on the guitars and their embellishments. They are attention grabbing in their speed, skill and style.
“Storm Bringer” – with a title like that, it seemed that we might be destined to have a storm brought down upon us… The power riffs rained down, with them being let ring out to change things up a bit, accompanied by machine-gun speed guitar.
The subject matter of this track is that of swords and sorcery. It focussed on the Blade of Elric of Melnibone, which was crafted to gift strength, health and skill, but it must be fed with the souls of intelligent people. I looked around the house a bit and had trouble finding too many, so will pass on the sword, thanks. That said, this track was a grand adventure, doing justice to the implied magical realm.
“Mistress of the Pit” sounds like a girl I went out with for a while. But, it was about a succubus. It still sounds like her…
I digress. This track opened in a slow, robust fashion, before leaping forth with a pace faster than the consumption of your first beer after a long, hot day.
The left-right balance engineering was a joy to behold. It really grabbed my attention and gave the impression of something sly stalking me. Like, a succubus… and that girl…
The vocals shifted again, screaming in fear and despair. This was augmented by folding of guitar, percussion and bass, before this fell away to just percussion and bass. It was abundantly clever.
Again, the combination of near perfect musicianship needs mentioning – it was breathtaking.
This album was certainly an epic journey. Like such a journey, there shifts in mood and landscape – exciting one moment, scary the next, then calm, then confronting. To that end, this is a record that deserves to be played from start to finish, without breaks.
This was serious musicianship, in subject matter and a genre that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s meant to nerdy and fun and this was achieved excellently. It was enormous, grandiose, Elvin queen seeking adventures and tale telling in all its glory. Mix into the witch’s cauldron: aggressive, power metal; insanely good guitars; vocals that shout, scream, croon and wail; some compelling and feisty metal anthems; and you have a powerful potion indeed.
So, was this a jaw dropping fusion of metal and fantasy, a pretentious pile of crap or a journey that tries hard to be epic all the way to the end, but fails and falls short?
The Witch Queen, the dragon and the succubus agree that it’s the first one.
Nightshadow are: Sean Woodman – Drums, Chris Bader – Bass, Nick Harrington – Guitar, Danny Fang – Guitar, Brian Dell – Vocals