Shattered Skies are one of those bands that you find that don’t have a record label, a website, or any of the “pro” stuff, but when you listen to them, you wonder, “How are these guys not huge?” They are a London-based melodic groove metal band with electronic influences, comprised of Gerry Brown (vocals), Chris Borland (bass), Ross McMahon (drums), and Ian Rockett (guitars and keys). Their latest album, “Muted Neon,” is in turns catchy, heavy, atmospheric, and extreme, and has something for metal fans of all stripes.
The main thing to notice about this album is the rhythm section. Borland and McMahon’s groove is at the heart of each song, propelling the record forward and holding it together. As you may have observed, I’m a huge bass nerd, and Chris Borland has a one-of-a-kind style. He sounds like former Voïvod bassman Blacky, with a funkier style and a slightly more distorted sound. That’s the best way I can explain it. McMahon’s drumming is technical, yet fantastically groovy. He reminds me of Gavin Harrison.
The album opens up with “The Disaffected,” a dark, ominous intro that seems to say, “Warning: The record you have just selected is heavy metal.” It starts out slow and somewhat atonal but builds until the end. “You Will Know My Name” kicks off with an epic, distorted bass riff and leads into an extremely infectious chorus, which in some ways almost reminds me of metalcore. It also features some awesome drumming, and Rockett’s solo halfway through is ridiculous. There’s also some piano in there, which is completely unexpected but provides a great balance! “Birth Of A Voyager” is a slightly slower track built on unusual guitar chords and featuring some great extreme metal vocals.
The next track, “Enmity,” shows a softer side of the band and features only drums, piano, and some synthesizer. Sadly, I think it’s somewhat wasted, as it’s under two minutes and really isn’t anything but an intro track in an odd place. It might be meant as a kind of companion to the next song, “Arisen,” which is one of the catchiest and heaviest songs on the album. It’s got more of a prog-rock feel to it than the rest of the album, which I like. Rockett’s guitar playing is extremely technical and I love Borland’s groove! The next track, “Shut In,” sounds more electronic at first before transitioning into the riff, which is full-speed-ahead metal. Halfway through, we hear a soft, synthesizer-led bridge with crazy death-metal vocals. It’s the kind of idea that really shouldn’t work, but sounds awesome for some reason! Shattered Skies has performed with TesseracT and those influences are evident in this song. It’s easily my favorite from this album.
“Mercator Map” is all about the keys, from the electronic intro to the piano-driven chorus to the awesome keyboard solo in the middle. “Fall From Disgrace” starts with some really odd acoustic-guitar-esque synth sounds, reminiscent of “Baba O’Riley” by The Who, and builds into a riff in an unconventional time signature. Then the main song begins, and it’s awesome! It’s definitely Brown’s best vocal performance of the album. “Blinded” begins with some very interesting chords and includes some fantastic keyboard work. “Limbus,” an instrumental, is built entirely on drums and synths; unfortunately, nothing really happens in this track.
The closing track, “The First Circle,” is the closest thing on this album to an epic at eight minutes long. It begins with an 80s-sounding synthesizer riff, which is then played on guitar. It’s a strong song with a great chorus and really does a good job of capping off the album. About halfway through, we hear a sick riff played on…either a guitar or a synth; I’m not entirely sure. It closes out with a piano-driven outro.
There are a few things left to be desired here, however. My main complaint about this album is the mix. In some songs, the keys drown out the guitar; in others, the guitar drowns out the bass. This is a hard-driving heavy metal album, but the mix doesn’t match up. The other thing is that the instrumentals are completely useless, and the lyrics are just a bit cheesy. Not Amon Amarth cheesy, but cheesy.
Despite Muted Neon‘s obvious shortcomings, it’s a fantastic effort by a band with their own sound and incredible potential. There are a few songs here that I’ll be listening to for a long time and I’m excited to see what’s in store for this band!
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