Latest release: Fire from the Sky (Spinefarm)
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Following their recent return visit to our shores as part of the mammoth Soundwave Festival bill, Massachusetts metal mainstays Shadows Fall are back with their seventh full-length Fire from the Sky. The record is their first to be produced by Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz since the band’s original studio release, 1997’s Somber Eyes to the Sky, which also featured original frontman and current All That Remains vocalist Phil Labonte. Mightily dreadlocked vocalist Brian Fair spoke to Loud about the creation of the new album, how the combination of metal and hardcore has become more widely embraced during the past 15 years, whether he was considered to become Killswitch Engage’s new singer and more.

Q: I understand the band is between tours at the moment. How are things going?
A: Yeah, we just got back from a headlining run as well as a run with Fear Factory, then the festival dates in the UK, Download, the Metal Hammer awards and all that. It’s going well.

Q: Good to hear. I understand you were actually sharing a bus with Fear Factory during that tour.
A: Yeah totally man, we were sharing everything actually; our backline, our crew, the bus. We just kinda teamed up and made it as simple and easy as possible, and it was a blast.

Q: That’s obviously a reflection of the economy as well, and how expensive it is to tour these days.
A: Yeah, as gas prices go up you try and keep the ticket prices low for everyone else, because they’re also suffering from the economic times that we’re in. So you have to find a way to have the package you want with the bands that make it worth it for people to come out, but in a way that the bands can still afford to survive out there. So that takes some work. But at least metal’s always been alive, the music, so people still come out and support the tours. It was a really good turnout and we had a really good time. We had some younger bands with us, so it was a cool package of newer bands and then us and Fear Factory, who have been doing it for over a decade.

Q: Shadows Fall was in Australia earlier this year, but you’ve obviously released the new album since then. When are we likely to see the band here again?
A: I would hope so soon. Hopefully we can come back and play some either headlining or just longer (sets) as part of a tour package. The festivals were amazing and Soundwave was as always incredible shows, but trying to pack all the songs into like a 30-minute set gets tougher when you’re on your seventh album. So hopefully we can come back over, do some proper shows and play some full sets.

Q: On the topic of the new album, can you tell us about the lyrical approach that you adopted there?
A: Well, each song kinda has its own vibe, but there was definitely an overall kind of theme of the record… Corruption, chaos, the apocalypse and things like that. The music that the guys were writing just had this really eerie, dark vibe, so that kind of inspired the lyrics to fall that way. Like the title track is about a star going like supernova, just devouring the planets and just destroying everything its way. So it was cool to me to write in almost like a fictional way for the first time, because usually our lyrics tend to be more philosophical or personal. So for me to write like that, do something different, was interesting. It’s not like a big concept album or huge theme, but there’s definitely a vibe that’s there.

Q: Do you ever envision Shadows Fall doing a fully-fledged concept record if you came across an idea or topic that inspired you to such an extent that you’d want to head in that direction?
A: If there was something that inspired me enough to write that many songs about one subject, I might be into that idea. But it’s just that each song usually inspires like its own kind of train of thought when I’m writing. If it’s a really aggressive song the lyrics tend to head that way. So I’d hate to try and like force a theme in the song that just wasn’t fitting, just to follow some sort of storyline. But one day if I had enough material that all (was able) to follow that same sort of direction that’d be cool, but we’ll see.

Q: Do you feel like the lyrical approach you’ve adopted on this album may have a more universal appeal then?
A: I’m not sure, that really remains to be seen I guess. But they are ideas that everyone can kinda relate to at this time. There’s a lot of turmoil in the world, whether it’s political upheaval, or economic upheaval, and even environmental and the earth itself. I think people can maybe relate to those ideas and themes, those current events that have a major impact on the world.

Q: How much, if at all, has the band’s songwriting approach changed during the course of seven albums?
A: We’ve kept the same basic format. Usually Matt (Bachand, guitars) or Jon (Donais, guitars) will come with like a rough home recording of some riffs that all tie together. So we usually work on that for a bit and jam on it until we have kind of an outline, a skeleton, and then I’ll start chipping away at the vocals from there. So that part has stayed the same. But what’s really been different is taking the time to just re-write and have the home studios that we all have (where) we’re all able to work on ideas maybe a little more… Just spend a little more time on it individually. So that’s probably helped to tighten things up quickly and by the time we get in the studio, we really have the songs pretty much nailed down, with just room for experimentation from there. So that part is pretty much the same, but you just learn more with each record and we’ve kind of learned more about each other’s (writing style) from just playing together for so long. We start to sort of either anticipate what they’re going to do or almost like read their minds at this point, you know?

Q: Indeed. I’m sure you’ve developed your own form of shorthand after so many years of working together.
A: It’s all kind of its own language too. Like when we’re talking about riffs, you do like the riff-speak where you’re trying to talk riffs out, you know? (laughs) You definitely start to know, anticipate what the next guy, what they’re going to bring to the table. So it’s become a pretty organic process for us because we’ve been doing it for so long.

Q: From a musical perspective, have the band’s influences changed much during the past 15 years?
A: I think we’re constantly inviting and just absorbing new ideas and new influences individually. But I think what we do well together is always going to have that basis in just old school, classic metal as well as thrash metal. We want those new ideas that are coming from our individual influences to kind of shape where it heads with each album. ‘Cause I know we were definitely… Like I was listening to a lot of bands like Quicksand and a lot of early 90s hardcore and I think that influences the way that I approached the vocals on this. So I think whatever you’re listening to at the time of the record definitely finds its way in. But I think overall with our sound, you’re always going to hear that same sort of original influences with like Maiden, Testament and early Metallica. But I think each of us bring some other stuff that we’ve been listening to that definitely makes its way into the process.

Q: In what ways do you think your vocals have improved or evolved during that period?
A: It’s definitely just getting more and more comfortable and confident within your own voice. Definitely on this album especially, I was willing to really try a lot of different things. Some of that had to do with Adam D’s influence as well, with him as producer. He just had these great ideas about vocals. Or he just kind of makes you look at things in a different way and try things with maybe a different approach or step up from your normal type of melody or something like that. So that helped me expand even further. It just hopefully, with time you just kinda get better and better at what you do, find your strengths and just make the most of what you got.

Q: The band hasn’t worked with Adam as producer for more than a decade, although you’ve obviously been long-time friends. Do you think it was a positive thing to record a series of albums without him before eventually deciding to work together again in that capacity, just to keep things fresh?
A: Yeah, I think for us it definitely, like doing something like working with him for the first time on a full, whole record was definitely what made this album stand out a lot and also kinda re-energized us. It also shook up our norm, just to break up the routine and bring in a new perspective and that’s really what Adam does. He’s known us, not only as musicians, but we’ve been friends forever, so he really understood where we were at musically. But he had never worked with us in that way, so he was really coming in with a fresh set of ears and hearing things that we may not be able to get from our own material. He had tonnes of great ideas and he’s a great guy to work with. He somehow manages to make you work super hard and long hours, but always keeps it entertaining enough where it doesn’t feel like pulling teeth. It was definitely a good time in the studio.

Q: You have a lot of history with Killswitch Engage. Were you considered to be their new vocalist prior to Jesse Leach re-joining the band (laughs) and what are your thoughts on him being back in the fold?
A: (Laughs) I don’t think I was ever in the running there, but Jesse was really the only option that really would have worked out (laughs). It was perfect timing for him to come back; I was lucky enough to see their first show with him at the New England Metal Fest and it was just amazing. It’s great to hear him sing the Howard (Jones) tunes too, just hear his own little twist on those songs. Yeah, just stoked; couldn’t happen to a nicer guy and it’s just awesome that it happened, that he got to have this sort of resurrection, a second chance with those dudes. I think a lot of it came from working together with Times of Grace, he and Adam were back on that same page again. Plus I don’t think I could hit the high notes on the Dio cover anyway (laughs), so they’d have to find someone who could do that.

Q: (Laughs) Back to the topic of fusing metal with hardcore, you’ve mentioned in past interviews how during Shadows Fall’s early years, combining the two genres certainly wasn’t anywhere near as widely accepted as it is today. Obviously the band weren’t the first to do so, but what are your recollections of those days and how it’s become far more widespread during the past decade-and-a-half?
A: Yeah, I think it definitely was not… The lines were more defined back then as well. Now, it’s become so blurred in terms of just so many crossovers between different metal sub-genres that it’s hard to keep things in black and white when it used to be that way. It used to be where like a hardcore band definitely tried to have that one particular sound and metal bands did too. When bands like Converge and VOD early on where starting to mix some of those things, some people were totally loving it because they always listened to both. But some people were totally, like just trying to keep those ideas separate. To me, it was just a natural progression when heavy music just went that way. It started out with a hardcore band getting a little bit more technical as you become better musicians and then maybe you listen to some of the metal in a different way. Then all of a sudden those ideas just cross over. Nowadays it’s a pretty standard thing, but in those early 90s, it was definitely at the beginning of that process.

Q: Do you think that being among the first American bands to do that has helped you stay fresh and vital within the metal scene, while other bands mixing similar styles have come and gone in the meantime?
A: I think one of the important things is that we’ve always stayed true to kind of like our core sound and just really tried to stay as the band we started out as. I think a lot of times, a lot of bands that are kinda sticking to such a formulaic approach do what they think is supposed to be the metalcore sound or whatever they call it. Whereas we’ve always just tried to write great metal tunes, keep the musicianship as a huge part of our sound and never take away the guitar solos or only start writing three-minute tunes. And I think maybe that’s just what’s allowed us to kind of keep doing what we’ve done and not have to fall into place with whatever was happening at the time. We were just kinda out there before, showing what we were all about.

Q: Do you keep up much with what’s new and “cool” in heavy music? Do you seek out the latest deathcore band that’s building a buzz?
A: I usually keep up just from touring, just from a lot of the new bands; I hear their new stuff when we travel. But when I’m at home I probably listen to more non-metal stuff or the classics, rather than anything that’s like new. There’s always some band that you hear for the first time (on tour) that I get into. But these days, I pretty much stick to the classics or just try and listen to different types of music, ‘cause I don’t want to start hearing a lot of what’s happening now and having that affect the way that we write. I just want to stay in my own little musical bubble (laughs).

Q: (Laughs) Any famous last words?
A: Just that we’re stoked about Fire from the Sky finally coming out worldwide. It took a little while, so hopefully you like the new record and we’re hoping to get back out on the road and back out to Australia very soon, so hopefully we’ll see everyone.