Shadows Fall’s “Retribution” is an exercise in metal-by-numbers. Start with acoustic beginning A, attach distorted guitar riff B, growling verse about pain C, slide that into the connection for guitar solo D, and then cover with double kick E, and you’re done.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. The end result is an album that lacks any true firepower. It is a paper tiger with no actual bite, no heart. “Retribution” is like any number of brightly colored snack foods that have no real flavor; seems like it should be enjoyable, but fails to satisfy upon ingestion.
There are spots on the album where I really enjoy the guitar work. Jonathan Donais is a fine player with all the requisite tools for this type of music. However, through poor construction and stubbornness, the band has crafted an album that plays away from that strength. His solos are too sparsely placed, and too frequently dominated in the over-polished production by the mind-numbing kick drum. The value of his talent is lost, and without that signature, the album becomes one of somewhere between 100 and 4,756 metal albums exactly like it.
Only once did the album really pop for me, and that was right toward the end with “A Public Execution.” Donais is featured heavily, and his ability alone carries that song beyond the muddled power chords that the rest of the album offers. There are other songs, such as “War” and “King of Nothing” that have excellent parts, but then either stray from them or in the case of a song like “My Demise,” simply go on too long.
As I was listening to the second half of the album, I found that I had no strong memories of the first half, and that is a damning statement on its own. My main fault with “Retribution” is that it lacks any sort of emotional attachment. By that, I don’t necessarily mean that subject matter or themes of the album lack an emotional context. Rather, “Retribution” just feels hollow. There is no sense of blood and sweat going into its production. The album is almost too clean, and too similar to its surroundings. The image in my head is a collection of musicians, producers and recording engineers sitting around a giant Pro-Tools setup dragging and dropping the pieces into place like sections of a pie-chart.
There are a lot of people who are going to like this album. And good for them, I’m glad they’ve found something to get behind. But as a man who seeks something more satiating from his heavy metal, “Retribution” is not for me.