SHEAR’s new album “Breaking the Stillness” is a brazen attempt to blend as many oversized elements as possible into a tiny suitcase, and slam the lid closed before the contents eject chaotically around the room. Somewhere between 80’s synth arena rock, Scandinavian guitar metal and new era Euro power metal, this album is a lot of things to a lot of people and perhaps not everything to anyone. Whether you’re looking for a dense, instrument heavy headbanger or something recognizable and accessible for a road trip, this album can, oddly enough, serve both of your needs.
First thing’s first. If you’re going to take on this album, make sure you listen to it through quality speakers with a balanced mix. Like some kind of heavy metal onion, there are a lot of layers here which deserve your attention if you’re going to generate a true appreciation of the music.
That might be the true take-away lesson from the Finnish sextet’s newest effort. The album is unintentionally deceptive; reveling in weaving multi-tiered sounds to conjure what at face value seems at first to be a simple melody. For those with the ear for it, “Breaking the Stillness” is anything but a paint-by-numbers affair.
The entire foundation begins with the pleasantly raspy, rangy vocals of Alexa Leroux. She sings at the strange crossroads of early Joan Jett and heavy metal Stevie Nicks, carrying emotion that feels anthemic and authentic. That quality is rare in and of itself, but then to hear her harmonize effectively with the full-kit destruction of Juhana Karlsson’s drums during the outro of “The Awakening,” or the quality scaled solos of the twin guitars is where the true elegance of the album comes to fruition. Her vocal prowess is nuanced, versatile and powerful, and the album would lack its greatest asset without her.
During the screening of SHEAR’s new record, my lizard brain kept calling to mind echoes of Deadlock’s adventuresome but slightly flawed album from 2011, “Bizarro World.” That band’s album is probably the ablest comparison to “Breaking the Stillness,” with the exception that the latter album is both (blessedly) more consistent and concurrently more risk averse.
For all the inspired blending of elements on “Breaking the Stillness,” it has fewer “holy shit” (for lack of a more eloquent term,) moments than one might reasonably expect. While not possessed of any critical flaws, “Breaking the Stillness” does little to redefine the genre with novel arrangements, as we’ve seen with Turisas and Blackguard over the recent years.
That said, the breakdown of “Scorched,” between the high-low guitar pairing and the Fear Factory remix-ish keyboard threaded throughout the solo make SHEAR’s album stand out from what could have been a terribly boring landscape. To add to the pop, that song dovetails directly into the album’s cleanup hitter, “Someone’s Else’s Eyes.” What makes this piece jump off the page is exactly the same reason that this work must be enjoyed through high-quality equipment; there’s an awful lot happening here. The two guitar lines are almost never convergent, and when the piece crescendos to raise the rafters, a soaring keyboard comes seemingly from nowhere to lift the harmony up into another register.
Just when you think that you’ve seen every trick SHEAR has to offer, “Breaking the Stillness” pulls another quality song out of its sleeve. The middle of the album gets bogged down in the synth-heavy near-glam piece “Wounded” and the been-there-done-that “Stillness,” but then rebounds nicely with the up-tempo, harrowing “Crowned by Fools,” which makes you pay attention for five more minutes.
Aside from the aforementioned “Scorched,” SHEAR is at their best during “No Way Out,” which nearly marks the album’s end. It is the only other piece that displays the band’s full creative range, from typical Scandinavian staccato brow-beating to over-the-top arena rocker to electronically-influenced power metal. All of these elements make up the soul of SHEAR, and with more of these tunes in tow, “Breaking the Stillness” would have vaulted from “solid but mildly repetitive” to “hallmark album of a career.”
SHEAR is one part punk, one part electronic, one part good-old rock and roll, one part overdriven heavy metal and one part female-fronted powerhouse. Unfortunately, there are only so many ways to combine those elements into one song, and so several of “Breaking the Stillness’” songs get wrapped up in and hopelessly entangled with one another. Still, if for no other reason than to spend hours dissecting those layers and hearing the subtleties laced throughout the album, SHEAR’s album should find its way to you. Leroux’s vocals and the dynamic inspirations the album is borne from make it worth the price of admission.