As I’m sure you’re probably aware, here at Sentinel Daily we receive literally thousands of albums submitted for review every year. We do our best to give a fair listen to as many as possible, even when it’s clear from note one that they probably won’t make the cut and find their way into our hallowed pages. It’s exhausting work – not that we’d have it any other way. It’s also work that reminds one of the fact that ‘our kind of music’ is in rude health in 2023.
But be that as it may, it’s also a reminder that much of what comes our way, though good technically, is workmanlike at best and downright uninspired at worst. It’s not often you listen to a new record from an ‘unknown’ band and sense greatness, which is why the debut album from Sheffield’s Shadow Smile is so exciting.
Midway through the album’s standout cut, Before Every Fall, is when the realisation first hits home. Signed In Blood – the album in question – has got it all. Raging, stadium-levelling anthems, introspective mood pieces, tracks that simply make you stop what you are doing and break out that trusty ol’ air guitar – all are here, present and correct. This is an album that’s going to be in a lot of end-of-year charts come December, you mark my words.
Taking it’s cues in essence from works like Queensrÿche‘s Operation:Mindcrime and updating the concept of ‘concept albums’ for a new generation, it’s hard – a couple of lyrics aside – to finger and weak spots in the Shadow Smile armoury. Even potential hazards like power ballads are dealt with with style and panache – The World Is In My Way is simply a best in show effort, powered by superior musicianship and dramatic, top-draw execution – meaning that this is, in real terms, a nigh-on perfect modern heavy metal record.
At the heart of this triumph is the sense of real, tangible soul that bleeds out of every song. Technical excellence at this level is a given, but Connor McGovern‘s impassioned vocals hint at something greater, whilst the sheer invention of some of Adam Smith‘s guitar playing is a joy to hear. The band benefit from a clean but punchy production – Ethan Goebel-Todd’s bass is pleasingly present and upfront punching it’s way out of the speakers alongside Joe Fletcher‘s drums, which isn’t always the case in independent releases, and Daniel Jeffery (production) and James Pinder (mix) should be congratulated on delivering a million dollar sound on what was doubtless a considerably smaller, crowd-funded budget.
I could go on, but after a while the hyperbole draw attention away from the fact that this is simply an album you must own if passionate, powerful heavy metal is your thing – which it should be…
Signed In Blood releases on August 18th.