On Life Beyond The Curse, new act Awaken The Shadow carve out a spot for themselves in the hard rock circuit dominated by bands like Breaking Benjamin, Adelitas Way, and, perhaps most appropriately, Sixx A.M. While far from perfect, when the band finds their groove, they are a force of nature. [columns] [column size=”1/3″]
Album Title: Life Beyond The Curse
Release Date: 11 March 2016
Playing Time: 00:44:36
Led by Wildstreet alumni Aaron Joos and Ali Hassan, that band’s 80s hair metal vibe carries over to this band in the form of harmonized leads and arena-sized solos, but often tempered by a more modern, aggressive and down-tuned tone. Lead guitarist Sean Salant is a beast when he cuts loose, managing to make the 80s sound cool again. The result manages to sound at home on the modern airwaves without sounded too indebted to any contemporaries. If Awaken The Shadow break onto the radio, it will be hard to confuse them with anyone else.
The biggest flaw with Life Beyond The Curse lies in the track listing. It’s pretty common for bands to frontload an album with the best songs so the listener’s attention is hooked. While this has the unfortunate side effect of leaving a disappointing aftertaste, it at least means the album will get a full playthrough. Life Beyond The Curse has the opposite problem: the front half of the album is actually fairly weak. Opener “Dreaming, 6ft Deep” is bland and uninspiring, and there is no way to describe follow-up track “Broken” other than awful. “Man Behind the Mask” is a huge improvement, with a slick intro riff and an even slicker solo that make it worth a few listens, but the next two tracks, “The Light Is On Our Side” (which manages to ride a triumphant sounding chug to mild success) and “Gravity” (a thoroughly forgettable ballad) drop back off a bit. Fortunately, the second half of this album isn’t just good, it’s phenomenal.
After a brief instrumental interlude, the best song on the album slams through the speakers. “The Hunter” isn’t just good, if it gets chosen as a single, it could be one of the biggest radio hits of the year by ANY band. Vocalist Taylor Paul finally cuts loose, spitting rapid-fire venom and snarling like the long-lost little brother of Chester Bennington, while the band turns up the heavy and finds themselves very comfortably in the company of titans like Shinedown or Three Days Grace, with a touch of Bullet For My Valentine’s classic metal inspired chug. The riff to this song is unbelievably huge, and bassist Ali Hassan rises to the forefront with a thick, clean 4-string melody.
“Run For Your Life” blends an 80s sounding harmonized guitar part ala Iron Maiden with a fuzzy production aspect. It’s an unusual choice, but it actually works for the song. Taylor’s snarl comes across like a slightly more nasal version of ex-Sick Puppies frontman Shim Moore at his angriest. The dueling solos near the end of the track are surefire show stealer material live, adopting a bit of a horror motif while melting faces. “Knockout” features another massive bass riff, and “Sing This Song” takes the album to a new level of heavy, borrowing elements from djent and metalcore without sacrificing the band’s own sound. “We Come Alive” injects the 80s vibe back into things with a Judas Priest-style riff and fist-pumping singalong chorus, and while closing track “Scars Will Remain” is a bit of a ballad, it’s dark and sinister enough to carry the intensity of the preceding tracks while allowing a bit of a comedown.
If I could rate this album solely based on the second half (and the pretty catchy “Man Behind The Mask”), this would be an early contender for album of the year. As is, the weak tracks and backloaded tracklisting here are damaging enough to pull Life Beyond The Curse down to merely “good.” Still, I very much encourage you to at least take a listen to “The Hunter,” “Knockout,” and “Sing This Song,” and buckle up, because if Awaken The Shadow can keep writing tunes like that, they’ll be a household name soon enough.