Sometimes, I’m timid about just saying what I think about a new album. Well, not all the time, but definitely sometimes. The sophomore record from All Things Fallen is almost upon us, and I honestly find that I dislike it the more I listen to it. Shadow Way releases on June 3rd.
All Things Fallen sounds like a dream project. The band consists of Markus Sigfridsson of Darkwater (guitars, bass, keyboards); Leo Margarit of Pain of Salvation (drums); Raphael Dafras of Almah (bass); and Erik Tordsson of End of Septemeber (vocals). Ulrik Arturén guests on backing vocals. It’s a simple project, honestly, not a huge supergroup or anything. That’s why I was initially drawn to it with 2019’s self-titled debut. It was a mysterious and dark forest of lush and progressive metal sounds, essentially. I still appreciate it.
Shadow Way, though, doesn’t quite have the same aura about it. It feels like a by-the-numbers prog metal album this time, more polished and less rough and interesting. Markus’ riffing is still a huge highlight for me, and there is no denying that he can write some of the best riffs in the business. Leo is, of course, stellar on drums; his performance elevates this album massively. And Erik has that high-pitched sort of prog metal voice that I really enjoy, and he sings his heart out here. I love the way he expresses certain vocal lines; he really seems to be all-in on this record.
Look, Markus is probably one of my favorite guitarists active today, but at some point his projects bleed together because of how similar they sound. This could have been a Darkwater album, honestly. It’s not just that, though. Markus is a conservative Christian, at least by European standards, and so the lyrics are god-awful. It’s not just the increasing level of religiosity that comes across as cheesy and ham-fisted: it’s the overly rhyming choruses, the us-versus-them mentality, and the overall theme that no one has any idea how to live life except for him and his ilk. This is definitely not a collection of songs you’ll see me sharing with lyrics on the Facebook page. They are pretty damn amateur and downright annoying the more I listen.
And that’s a real shame, too. The album has many bright moments, mostly found in some seriously amazing riffs, thundering drums, and vocal fireworks. Personally, I would say the first half of the album is much stronger than the second half, and that’s primarily because the songs are just more exciting. “The Sentinel” is a great opener with a satisfyingly heavy sound, though I have to admit that I’m not a fan of Ulrik Arturén backing vocals here, or anywhere on the album, actually. “Rebirth” is another song with some incredible riffs and a great vocal hook: it’s fun to hear, for sure.
I would say the same about “Pandemonium”: great riffs and fun to hear. I would say that the cheese factor starts to rise here, though. I like the song, yes, but the chorus feels like filler for some reason, and the lyrics aren’t great. The following tracks mostly blend in my mind. They are all average to good in quality, especially “Path of Dismay” and “Kiss of Death” for offering heavy barrages of guitar and drums. You can headbang yourself to work on these. I know I have.
The final two songs, though, are just not that good. “Desert of the Real”, if you can tell by the title, is a stretch both musically and lyrically. The lyrics don’t fit the tune all that well, and I honestly just don’t enjoy it. The closer, the title track, is emphatically terrible, though. Its weak and stumbling primary rhythm tries to sound mysterious and eccentric, but it is definitely only a “try”. It doesn’t succeed. The lyrics also reach a crescendo of cheesy religiosity here. In fact, the music feels like it was tacked onto the lyrics without much thought. The message here is clearly more important than writing a good song, which isn’t like Markus’ past work. It actually makes me wonder if something happened to make him venture from subtlety towards tastelessness in how he writes lyrics.
I just don’t know about this one. I actually enjoyed Shadow Way the first few times I heard it, mainly because of the objectively outstanding musicianship. However, the songs feel weaker and less complete the more I hear them, and the lyrics crop up more and more as the most annoying part of the experience. I can deal with religious connotations, but when the message is conveyed in a tacky, clumsy sort of way, I lose interest. In the end, I probably won’t be listening to this moving forward, though I certainly can appreciate its bright moments.
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