Massachusetts metal monsters Shadows Fall are still going strong eleven years into their recording career. The melodic thrashers from the Northeast have just released their new album Retribution, which blends belligerence and beauty into a potent sonic brew. The group has stuck to their hardcore metal roots while branching out into more classic metal territory, unleashing a hailstorm of powerhouse riffs and raucous rhythms, all united by Brian Fair’s growling and singing, which he is doing more of this time out.
While their last album Threads Of Life found Shadows Fall graduating to the major leagues through a deal with Warner Bros., they have renegotiated the terms so that they now are releasing their music through their own label, Everblack Industries, while retaining distribution through Warner Bros. For the group it’s the best of the worlds — major label retail power with more creative and personal control and a better royalty rate. ADD caught up with fierce frontman Brian Fair outside of Looney Tunes, a Babylon, New York-based indie music store, where soon after the quintet — Fair, guitarists Jonathan Donais and Matt Bachand, bassist Paul Romanko and drummer Jason Bittner — unleashed a six-song set on a small stage for dozens of pumped up fans that proved they could tear it up even in the most confined of spaces.
The new album is more melodic and has many acoustic sections, and you’re singing more. How are your hardcore fans reacting to this maturing musical shift?
I think it’s something that they’ve always heard anyway. We’ve always had melodic moments, since the first record and since even the demo days. I think it’s always been an intrinsic part of our sound. But there are probably some people that if they were only into the extreme moments may not be as into some of [the other stuff], but at the same time you’ve got to make music that’s a balance of your influences. We’re just as much into arena rock and big, anthemic stuff as we are into thrash and melodic death metal, so you’ve got to be true to your own influences.
In the past you have spoken about how your lyrics explore Eastern philosophy, and you live a vegetarian lifestyle. With groups like Shadows Fall and vegan death metal band Cattle Decapitation, do you think that some of the fans hear the message in the music? Or do you think that they’re just into the aggression?
Some will, but some are just going to be in for the sonic reasons, like they just love the way it sounds. That was like that for a lot of hardcore back in the day. There were always messages behind it, but half of the audience was into it and the other half just wanted to jump on top of each other and go crazy during the show. Back in the day you’d see kids that you knew were wasted drunk with leather jackets on singing to Earth Crisis, a straight edge vegan band. They were obviously not in tune with the message, but they were feelin’ the riffs. It’s funny for me to see that.
Do you find it ironic that people would be moshing to a song with a more peaceful or introspective message?
I always loved that, too. Like a song from our new record, “War,” which has lyrics from a speech by Haile Selassie that was used By Bob Marley before, but it’s the most brutal song on the record. So it’s this song about brotherhood and unity with an anti-racism message just being screamed at you. But I’ve always loved that dichotomy in hardcore to begin with. Even old thrash metal would have these very political or environmental lyrics – Nuclear Assault had “Critical Mass,” which is a song about saving the earth and going green, but it’s screamed at you over thrash [riffs]. I’ve always loved that kind of duality.
What inspired the song “Picture Perfect”?
It’s a song about when you want to see the best in a situation regardless of the reality around you. You’re just projecting perfection onto something to really avoid what’s actually happening. It could be a relationship, it could just be a situation in your life where you’re always seeing it through rose colored glasses while everything is just burning around you. And then by the time you realize it it’s usually too late. That’s happened to everybody at different points in their life. Honestly, the lyrics came out of the melody to begin with. Jon was humming that chorus over the riff while we were practicing, and as he was humming it kept getting stuck in my head. We refined it, and the lyrics almost wrote themselves as I sang along. That set the tone for what the song was about. I want to do that one live because we get to do the big vocal harmonies, the big Journey chorus, so good times. We have to work it out. We’re not doing it on this tour because we haven’t had a chance to work out the harmonies in the practice space.
What’s the most personal song on the new record?
That one and “The Taste Of Fear” are the ones that are from more life experiences as opposed to being philosophical, like songs with a more political message. You’re going to have more of an attachment to songs from real life experience rather than a philosophical idea that you’re expressing.
Where did “The Taste Of Fear” sprout from?
It’s written from the perspective of someone who’s constantly taking all of the abuse in a relationship — not necessarily love, but any sort – like when you’re the one that’s constantly getting heaped on and heaped on, but allowing it to happen continually and not breaking that cycle.
You released one album on a major label. What was that experience like, and why did you switch to releasing the new album on your own label?
It was honestly a great experience, but one big obstacle we ran into was the major labels started being affected by the shift in record sales and the economy being so poor. They’re more used to spending a ton to get results, whereas we’re a band that’s all about being as cheap as possible. We grew up as a D.I.Y. metal band, so we’re about just skimming by and getting it done. Unfortunately they started downsizing, and suddenly everyone who signed us at the label was gone, so we were left without our team. We signed an option and were able to renegotiate that option to where we actually still have a deal with Warner Bros. for distribution, but we now own the record. It worked out perfectly. They hire Ferret Records to do the every day promotions, so we have a smaller, thinking, D.I.Y. hardcore label to do the everyday work that before was being done by the major label staff that may have never understood this well. But we still have the major label presence at retail. So we’re using their strengths but also using smaller label strengths for a band like us. That’s what we need more. We know what works for us. We’re more of a peer-to-peer kind of band – going out and spreading the word on the road and direct through our message boards and websites and Twitter. We don’t need some of the major label mechanics behind it because that’s not how we operate, [with] a big video, a big single. We don’t have singles.
Some people argue that metal bands, especially extreme metal bands, should not be a major label because they don’t understand how to market those bands. It might be better for a metal band to be on a major indie.
Sometimes it can be. The [Warner] deal was worked out so well that it would have been silly not to take it. We had a chance to make one record at a great studio, so at the time it made total sense. We still moved over 100,000 records at a time when records aren’t selling. It was great, but we realized what we could do if we own it, [which] changes everything. Now we own the record and the royalty rates shift. Before bands always got fucked. First everyone gets paid back, then everyone gets paid, and the band gets paid last. It’s a trickle-down pyramid where you’re at the bottom. Now we’ve taken that and switched it so everything you do to stay on budget and the money you spend you know is for the best of the band because you’re the one who made that decision. The label is always going to tell you, “we’re doing this in the best interest of the band,” but they’re doing it in the best interest of the bottom line. Now the bottom line is us, so it makes sense to do that. We know that it’s for our best interest because we made every decision. It’s a lot more work, but for bands like us who have been around for 10 years or more and have that kind of leverage to create a deal like this, it’s the way to go because at this point if you haven’t learned everything in the business then you weren’t paying attention anyway. And if you have, you might as well use it to your advantage and put out your own music because you can do it these days.
What do you think your fans would be surprised to learn about you or any of your bandmates?
I probably don’t look like an avid golfer, but I definitely golf as much as possible when I’m not on the road. That will probably surprise people, but it doesn’t surprise me. Me and Alice Cooper, were going to go head-to-head one day, a metal golf-off. And our guitar player Matt loves Yanni. People might not know that. He’s seen him, like, four times.