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Shadows Fall | Art of Balance | interview | Brian Fair | metal | Lollipop
The Art of Balance (Century Media)
An interview with vocalist Brian Fair
by Tim Den
In this era of hardcore bands trying (and failing miserably) to play "technical metal" and metal bands dumbing down their songwriting for "street toughness" (result: nü metal), Shadows Fall cut through all the shit with one big swipe of the real thing: THRASH. I'm talking late '80s/early '90s, Bay Area/NJ, Testament/Exodus/Overkill/Sacred Reich style riff-fests, with all the right modern fixings in place (breakdowns, better vocalist, better production). It doesn't take a genius to notice the way opener "Idle Hands" takes you right back to high school lunch periods. "Dude, the new Death Angel RIPS!" "Oh yeah? I just heard this new band from Brazil called Sepultura; their new album Beneath the Remains is the future!" Ah, how time flies. Allow me to wipe the tear drop from my eye...
The Art of Balance creates a relevant 21st century metal album by learning from the greats. By adopting thrash's riff finesse and filtering it through Northeastern US hardcore (especially vocalist Brian Fair's delivery), Shadows Fall sound like the best of thrash's magical "chug chugs" and modern hardcore's rhythmic plays. Now if only the masses can realize that there's gold buried in the long-abandoned "late '80s" mine...
You guys are always on tour, huh?
Yeah, we've been on tour pretty much right after we got out of the studio. (chuckle) We did a short headlining tour, then we went out with Kittie for seven weeks, and now we'll be out with Hatebreed for three weeks... with very little time in between. (laughs)
When did you finish the album?
We finished around March, but the record just came out a few weeks ago.
Do you consider yourselves a "Boston band" or just a "Massachusettes band?"
More of a Massachusettes band. I live right in Boston, the rest of the guys live in Western MA, and our new drummer's from Albany, NY.
Did you go to Boston University?
Yup, I actually graduated from there in '98. I studied Modern Literature with a concentration in Photo Journalism the entire time I was in (my old band) Overcast.
Tell me about Overcast and what eventually happened to the band.
We started that band when we were 15, 16 years old. It went on for about eight years, just playing local hardcore shows and a few out-of-state things... but it stayed at that same level forever. At the end, everyone was like "yeah, we kinda rode this as far as it's gonna go." So... no dramatic break-up. Just fizzled.
I thought I was gonna take a little time off from music after that, but Shadows Fall pretty much approached me as I walked off stage from the last Overcast show. Wait, I was actually still on stage, trying to find my t-shirt. At first, I was like "Ah, I'm not sure." I loved their first record, but I just wanted to chill for a while. They finally convinced me to come out and jam, and the new stuff was so good - and it clicked so fast - that we ended up writing two songs in the first two jams. It was too good to pass up.
What happened with their old singer?
They were headed for a more melodic, thrash, hard rock-influenced type of sound, and he was more of a traditional death metal singer. He wanted to go on and do different things; started a new band right after he left Shadows Fall.
How long had the band been around before you joined?
Two and-a-half years, maybe three. They had one record on Matt's (Bachand, guitarist/backup vocalist) own label, Lifeless Records. It was originally meant to be more of a demo, but it ended up moving close to 10,000 copies on its own. We still sell copies of it today (at shows).
Do you play any of it live?
Yeah, we reworked a few that ended up on Of One Blood, but we play some of it live. But with opening slots - half -hour sets - we try to concentrate on new material and stuff from Of One Blood. We headlined the other night in Boston and tried to bust stuff out from all eras.
Do people ever yell out "play Overcast songs!"
Yeah, definitely. That happens randomly all over the country.
So is everyone's original besides you?
There was a fill-in bass player in the beginning, but he wasn't really in the band. Paul (Romanko) has been there pretty much since the beginning; he was on the first album. We changed drummers last November when Jason (Bittner) joined after the first run we did with Hatebreed.
What happened with your old drummer?
He was a great drummer, but he wasn't a metal drummer. We were forcing him to play a style that wasn't natural for him. Live performances were lacking a little bit, and we weren't getting exactly what we wanted in the studio just cuz it wasn't what he was accustomed to playing. We all knew that we needed a change; we needed a solid thrash metal drummer. We knew Jason was perfect from the beginning; Shadows Fall and Overcast had both played with his old band, Stigmata. It just took a while to convince him to leave the stable life at home and ride around in a shitty van with five dudes. (laughs) He keeps waiting for a tour bus, but it never shows up. We actually were on a tour bus for five days (at one point); he probably thought he was living the high life.
Did you join the band before they signed to Century Media?
Yup, I did. Right after I joined, we recorded some demos that led to the deal. Funny, cuz the A&R guy who signed us was (initially) interested in Overcast. That spilt over when I started working with Shadows Fall; it all happened pretty quick. Of One Blood was somewhat rushed cuz (the label) wanted us to get a record out right after we signed. It was written and recorded very quickly. And it sounds it, too. Very raw, "live" sounding, not very layered guitars.
But it all worked out well enough for you to sustain yourselves on the road for long periods of time.
They've definitely done whatever they can for us. They pushed for us from day one. And we've never taken tour support; we've never taken huge advances. We try to always keep the costs low so we can recoup right away and just stay on the road on our own money. Not that they haven't offered, but we just try to be self-sufficient.
Until Of One Blood, I was always under the impression that Shadows Fall and Overcast were more MA hardcore bands than metal bands...
Well, when I first heard Shadows Fall, I considered them metal. People called it "metalcore," but there were always guitar solos, acoustic breaks, and it always had more of a melodic thrash/death metal feel to me. With Overcast, toward the end, we thought we were a metal band that never fit in with the hardcore scene. We were never straight edge; we never did the old school thing. We just happened to grow up in the (Northeastern hardcore) scene and had the DIY ethic, so we got lumped in there. But as far as Shadows Fall, we consider ourselves a metal band. There's obviously always gonna be a hardcore influence, just cuz we've all listened to hardcore and played in bands of that style... but this is definitely a metal band.
A lot of it reminds me of modern day Testament or something...
Totally. You totally nailed it. That's the style we all grew up influenced by. I've always been more into that than death metal because of the vocals aren't monotonous growls. We had a real thrash metal vibe when were writing and recording this one.
Plus, modern day Testament is able to do everything from melodic stuff to death metal brutal assaults...
Totally. I think there's just more room in that style to work with than in death metal. Albums like Master of Puppets will have the thrash tunes, epics, and ballads on the same side. That's something we wanted to accomplish with this record: Covering a lot of ground without stepping outside of our original sound. We think this is a thrash metal album more than anything else... without going retro. We didn't want to rehash any ideas, but it's definitely a familiar sound to anyone who grew up with Metallica and any of the Bay Area thrash bands. It's something that's lacking today. When was the last time you heard blazing guitar solos?
I was just going to say that I'd much rather have thrash metal back then anything else, just cuz it was always more flexible and melodically vital.
There're stricter boundaries in death metal and black metal. They're always worrying "oh that riff isn't death metal enough," "that part isn't heavy enough," or "you can't sing like that on this part." We want to totally get away from that.
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