ALBUM REVIEW: Lunar Shadow - The Smokeless Fires (CRUZ DEL SUR MUSIC)

It's really hard to find out where to begin when it comes to these albums that claim to be subgenre-crossing. Especially since a lot of them take way too long to get into the meat of what they claim to be. Luckily, 'Catch Fire' is a perfectly crafted opening to The Smokeless Fires and promises that this album won't be a slow build up to something genuinely captivating. A short, but effective, piano bit showcases a bit of the groups classical ambitions. And, yes, that does mean actual classical elements are to be found here - some very intricate, skillful, and somewhat technical build ups. Light black-metal stylings are thrown here and there for some flavor but this is almost entirely tremolo picking. Occasionally, there is a blast beat section or two, but it almost fits so well that you won't really notice where the 'classical' metal and the 'black' metal begins or ends.

Robert Röttig really kills it on vocals, pulling all manner of rock and metal influences forward to create his own distinct imprint. What's more impressive is that Röttig seems completely capable of navigating the low-fi production without getting lost in all the sound. Personally, I haven't heard any of his work outside of this album, but he seems to carry on a melancholy tone throughout The Smokeless Fires that I feel suits the album. Still, there were quite a few times where I wanted a bit more power from him, I really wanted to hear this guy howl and blow me away. While there are a few choice moments, such as on 'Pretend' and 'Laurelindorenan' where he almost gets there, nothing really reaches that breakthrough vocal moment I was looking for. Still, a fantastic singer who everyone should be keeping an ear out for.

Certainly, Max ‘Savage’ Birbaum and Kay Hamacher are extremely capable guitar players and they've no doubt played their fingers to the bone on this album, but did there really have to be a new solo every minute on The Smokeless Fires? I'm going to guess that, if I ever had the chance to ask Lunar Shadow this, the answer would be a resounding yes. Sadly, it's a bit to the albums detriment. I almost thought this album was completely instrumental walking into it for the first time. And, trying to keep with the sound and tone of the album, it causes tracks to blend and become somewhat unrecognizable from each other. I mean, it sounds fantastic still as a whole- but you aren't going to find any 'singles' on The Smokeless Fires. Defiantly a vinyl or cassette type experience, meant for full album playthroughs.


Still, every time The Smokeless Fires lost me, I found a moment that brought me back in. There are moments I swear are pulled out of the pits of metal obscurity just to remind you that - hey, Lunar Shadows knows what it's doing. A prime example is a bit near the tail-end of 'Laurelindórenan,' which I swear is a nod to Celtic Frost. At least, I want it to be one because it sounds so close to those cheesy-yet-harrowing attempts at a evil-sounding dark voice on 'Circle Of The Tyrants'.As well, those few-and-far-between blackened moments can be pretty nice. I only wish there was a little bit more consideration when it came to making them a bigger part of the experience.

As a first time listener, I was instantly drawn into what Lunar Shadow has to offer! It's full of great guitar solos, a lot of guitar solos, some really good musical craftsmanship, a great mentality when it comes to keeping the recording straight-forward and light on the processing. You get a honest sound when it comes to The Smokeless Fires, this album is doubtlessly exactly what you'd get in a live environment - occasional flaws included. Just a bit more experimentation would be great, but this is their second album and for what it is, it's pretty damn phenomenal.

-KEITH H.-

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