Shades of Sorrow – a canadian female fronted band out of Moncton, New Brunswick – put out their second album „Ascension“ this early June. And guess what: It landed on my (virtual) desk and I was pretty eager to hear the complete album after I saw the cover and got a glimpse into one of their videos. (At this point it should be mentioned that this is the second edition, if you could call it that way, as the album is available as mp3 only. The band already released „Ascension“ on CD in midst September 2015.)
The cover looks pretty appealing and promises Symphonic or Gothic Metal in the veins of Midnattsol, Angtoria or Within Temptation in the first place.
But before you click on another review let me tell you: Shades of Sorrow have nothing, or at least not a lot in common with the aforementioned bands. They play a hard version of alternative or even progressive rock, which reminds me mostly of Godsmack– and Creed-stuff around the 2000s – even old Lacuna Coil and The Gathering could be named, if you want an adequate comparison. And that’s not only because of the female vocals. In some places their songs also remind me of old Tool-material, i.e. at the end of the title song „Ascension“. But enough of the whole name dropping thing so far, let’s get to the songs themselves.
They are mostly played in mid-tempo, some even in low-tempo – like the last one „Sleepless“ – and two in up-tempo. After the atmospheric intro titled „Into the Nightmare“ the first song „On a Hot Summer Night“ is the only one on the whole album that gets through the ceiling, pumped up and full of steam, like a steam engine on steroids. The only other song that ups the tempo is the last but one, named „Skyblazer“. For a continuous listening delight and for variety reasons it could have been better to position it in the middle of the album. Don’t get me wrong, the other stuff is also pretty neat, heavy and beats you in your guts quite well, but it also gets kind of tough over time.
Musically all of the four band members do a pretty good job. They know how to play and sing and listening to the album makes me want my head bang a lot of the time listening to it. And that’s not only because of its’ fat and groovy sound, the well balanced production and the catchy song structures. Julien Leblanc on bass and Pascal Deslongchamps on drums work well together, they form a whole and that’s the reason why the songs groove that well – and why the head starts banging. The instrumentation also varies, as can be heard i.e. in „Found from Grace“, where an acoustic guitar is used throughout the whole song in a prominent position – and no, it’s definitely no ballad. In „Move“ they even get support from the rappers of The Cauldron Project. The song reminds me of old Limp Bizkit, Dog Eat Dog or Linkin Park material. Maybe it seems unbelievable to hear that from a longtime metalhead, but it really kicks ass and got a catchy refrain, which can get stuck in your head for quite some time.
But there are also some points that sadly pull me out of enjoying the stuff.
The first one is the guitar sound of Mike Taylor. It is lacking a bit of bass frequencies at some time, at these points they lie more in the mids and highs and are a bit too sharp. In „Parade of Lunatics“ and „Ascension“ the guitar sound even reminds me in some places of bands like Primordial. In my opinion it stands out and doesn’t fit that well to the fat sound of the other parts. (As I’m speaking of the title-track: The guitar even sounds a bit untuned at the beginning.)
The second one is Monise Ouellettes’ intonation. Although her vocals show a wide range, from aggressive to soft and even classical, it is sometimes a bit beside, i.e. in the chorus of „On a Hot Summer Night“ or in the two-part passage at the end of the last track „Sleepless“. That’s a pity, because she proves many times that she’s not only a flexible but a good vocalist.
And then, on third place, there’s the often mentioned last track „Sleepless“.
It stands out because of its’ balladic structure and here’s where Monise Ouellette shows her classical skill. But: Compared to the other tracks the structure is the one which appears least thought through. It seems that the band wrote a ballad, because there had to be one on the album, i.e. for variety reasons. It simply sounds uncompassionate, not so well played and recorded as the rest of the tracks, the harmonies are sometimes sort of strange and that’s sad, because it pulls down the achievement of the album as a whole.
All in all it can be stated, that Shades of Sorrow put a lot of effort in „Ascension“. The songs are heavy, well produced, well played, groovy, make you bangin’ your head and they remember myself of the alternative rock days back then around the millennium. Overall the songs may not impress with originality, but they are diverse in tempo and instrumentation – and last but not least they groove pretty well.
If there weren’t the aforementioned three main critic points this would have been a candidate for more, but in the actual state, as it is, this album gets at least a 7 out of 10.