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Shadows Fall | The War Within | interview | Brian Fair | metal | Lollipop
The War Within (Century Media)
An interview with singer Brian Fair
by Eric Chon
live silhouette by Bruce Bettis
With a revitalized American metal scene, bands such as Lamb of God and Chimaira are showing their quality and are now getting mentioned alongside such greats as Exodus and even old-school Metallica. But it's in Massachusetts where it's beginning to truly mature into the modern equivalent of the leaders of yesterday. Killswitch Engage have shown that combining the new aggressiveness with old-style melody can produce stunning results.
But it's another local favorite that's blowing open the doors and really showing the way. Shadows Fallare poised to be one of the biggest metal acts in the country, and their new offering, The War Within, is being heralded as the Master of Puppets of today. High praise indeed. I spoke with Brian Fair - lead singer and fellow Boston University alum - about the past and how it's influencing the present.
The War Withincontains a lot of influences from the older metal world (such as Priest).
Yeah, we've got older Priest and Maiden influences working in there. A lot of those big choruses and intricate guitar have really worked their way in. On this record, we really wanted to stress the rock and roll aspects of heavy metal. Lots of groove, with less emphasis on a straight-out thrash fest.
You must've started with metal at an early age.
Oh man, I was a really early metalhead. I was listening to Kiss when I was four or five years old. People played them, and I soaked it up. The first two albums I bought were Men At Work's Business As Usual and Ozzy Osbourne's Bark At the Moon.
I went from Metallica and jumped right into the Boston hardcore scene. Back then, it wasn't so segregated. Everyone was into it all. I remember going to see shows at The Rat when I was 13 or 14. It was bad ass. I remember a show with Slapshot AND Sepultura at one point. It was awesome. I got a good Boston hardcore education.
Shadows Fall has shown its roots with each album, and The War Within shows how diverse your influences really are. What did you want to achieve with this record?
We really wanted some distance between this one and The Art of Balance. We really captured a live, aggressive sound on the last one, and were really quite happy with how it turned out. But with The War Within, we went for a bigger production. We wanted it to be darker, heavier, and more rock 'n' roll. This was going to step it up, take us to the next level and show people something new.
The Art of Balance was written in bits and pieces, here and there, while on the road. After touring, we all decided to sit and write, to work on the record full-time and focus all of our energies on it. This gave us time to really reflect on where we were and to put that in the album.
How much did you get done before going into the studio? Was a lot of it done beforehand?
We had the chance to write and rewrite before we went in. We demoed and jammed and hammered it all out so when we got to the studio we could focus on production and just laying down the tracks. We didn't want to drag it out and then rush it as the money would, inevitably, run thin. None of the "Shit guys, we've got $1000 left! Let's just put something down!"
We really feel that this is our most mature and complete album to date. All the tracks have a certain cohesion that works on many levels. Everyone has albums they hold close to their heart, and while this may not be THE one for everyone, it's very dear to us. We wrote for ourselves and to make ourselves as musicians happy.
It sounds like there was very little outside involvement, like you were left to concentrate on your vision without the input of anyone else.
After The Art of Balance, there were a lot of expectations put on us, and all this hype... But we wanted to avoid all that and put together what WE wanted. We refused to play a single note for anyone until it was finished. We were nervous, of course, but we wanted to stick to our guns. No management, no outside influences, just an isolated environment where we could build something of our own. We said, "Let us do what we do!"
For years, we've been told that we're "too retro" or too this and not enough that. Well, with The War Within, we want to say "Fuck off! This is who we are!" I think the album will stand on its own.
Now those voices are saying this new record is the Master of Puppets of today...
Oh man... Let me first say that Master of Puppets is about as complete and perfect a metal record as you can get. Those are massive shoes to fill. Back then, they were forging new ground and starting from scratch, essentially. We've got years of metal behind us to draw from, so I think it's an unfair comparison. But this is certainly a tribute to our influences, while taking them to the modern level. Those early records stand so tall... they've stood the test of time! If we can stand even one-third of that, that'd be amazing. I mean, they're fucking Metallica, dude! (laughs) We must bow to the masters! It's flattering and humbling at the same time.
Standing the test of time is something that a lot of music today seems to eschew. Trends rise and fall and metal almost seemed like a trend again when nü metal started hitting the airwaves...
That's the thing, man. You have to remind everyone that this was always here! Just in the underground. It's been a really grassroots building, all these bands demanding attention despite all these fucking naysayers. It was always about dudes in shitty vans driving around the country playing to nobody. (laughs) Man, with all these bands here, if Boston or Massachusetts became like a new Bay Area thrash scene, that'd be awesome. The momentum here is great. What a way to really bring the underground the attention it deserves.
Metal is commercially viable again, and bigger than it has been in ages. Do you think this is a good thing?
Commercially viable is a mixed bag. I mean, we make a living with the band, and that's great. It's allowing us to tour and focus on our music without all the distractions of everyday job bullshit, but I'm still always late with my gas bill! (laughs)
The downside, of course, is clone bands. I mean, labels will think that they can cash in with these fucking teenybopper versions, and it'll just give metal another false image all over again. But, you know, metal is very demanding on the listener. There's so much musicianship and energy. The bar of entry is higher, and the raw emotion is so prevalent that it prevents mass commercialism. One way of continuing this ideal of retaining integrity and keeping metal's success real rather than manufactured is by touring extensively.
You've toured with Candiria. Were you excited about sharing the stage with such an eclectic and respected powerhouse?
We were so happy to have Candiria tour with us. They've always been one of my favorite bands! After that accident (the band was in a near-fatal accident with an 18-wheeler), it's been a tough climb back. Their new album is absolutely amazing, and I really wanted the opportunity to bring them back into the limelight. This is a perfect time to get the kids back into them, to show off what they're capable of.
How was your CD release party in Fitchburg, MA?
That was kinda run by WAAF (the big rock station in MA). It's a big rock/metal show, and it's awesome to finally get the respect to headline it. We've always been kind of the runt of the state. With bands like Killswitch Engage around, we tend to get overlooked. But to play a big MA show is a dream. It's an awesome homecoming for us.
Speaking of being a local, you went to Boston University, right? I graduated in '99.
I graduated in '98, so we must've passed by each other at the GSU (George Sherman Union, the student center)! (laughs) Yeah, I was originally a photojournalism major at College of Communications, but, you know, being a stoner and respecting deadlines are two different things! (laughs)
I ended up with a degree in literature. I thought "You know, I just want to read good books all day," so there you go. I was the token local scholarship kid. I got to hang out with princes, it was surreal.
Still a local kid when it comes to downtime?
You got it. I'll be watching the Red Sox at Fenway, the Celtics at the Fleet Center, and the Patriots when I can. Otherwise, you might catch me on skateboard around town or sitting on porches chilling out. I'm also playing drums in a side project called Transient: Very mellow, ambient stuff.