SHADOWS FALL – Everything Remains
On October 11th, 2011, it was publicly revealed that Springfield, Massachusetts-based metal outfit Shadows Fall had inked a multi-album North American recording contract with Razor & Tie. Previous record labels to issue Shadows Fall material include guitarist Matt Bachand’s Lifeless (November 1997’s Somber Eyes To The Sky), Century Media (April 2000’s Of One Blood, September 2002’s The Art Of Balance, and September 2004’s The War Within), Atlantic / Roadrunner (April 2007’s Threads Of Life), and Ferret / Everblack Industries (September 2009’s Retribution).
“That was brought to the table to us by our manager (Izzy Zivkovic), and he’s been working with that company for awhile on various different projects,” reveals Jason Bittner, drummer for Shadows Fall. “He felt that that would be one of the strongest moves for us to make, but we saw some of the other options that we had too. We just felt that the Razor & Tie thing was gonna be the best cohesive fit for us as a band. We had already worked with some of the people who work there too, so we knew they had our back and were fans from the start. I think that was really one of the reasons that we gravitated towards them, because they came to us as fans, and they had known the history of the band. It wasn’t like they were just trying to cash in on something, or whatever. They came to us pretty genuine, so that always pays off some dividends.”
Ferret Records imprint Everblack Industries – which issued Retribution as mentioned earlier – was Shadows Fall’s own imprint. “It was what it was,” the sticksman reflects. “We had a great idea on paper with Ferret for the Everblack imprint. If record sales were still what record sales were, then it may have worked out for us in the long run to stick with doing that. It worked out though in the sense that we did well enough where we recouped our money, but that was because we didn’t owe anybody any money. Signing with Razor & Tie was just a thing where we felt the best option was to partner with another label, partnering with some new and fresh blood and some people that we thought could really take the ball and run with it. It was a good experience. Any label change we have or anything that we do is always another chapter that we have in the career book.”
Shadows Fall began crafting material for May 2012 full-length Fire From The Sky towards the conclusion of the 2010 Mayhem Festival tour. Taking place from July to August 2010, Shadows Fall performed on the Jägermeister stage. “We had some riffs happening, and started working on stuff in soundcheck during the last week of our headlining run on the way home from Mayhem,” Jason chronicles. “The songs started to take shape then. We just went on a writing spurt, and wrote maybe like six songs within the first few months of us being home off tour. We then kind of hit a lull, so we took a little bit of time, regrouped, got back together, and started the writing process again. We worked on it for over the good course of a year. We were actually gonna start recording in August, but then we put the kibosh on that and pushed it back to October of last year. It’s a great culmination of all our hard work.
“We started pre-production around July. Adam D started coming in and working on the full pre-production process with us, going through the songs – going through them with a fine toothcomb – and taking out the stuff that was just filler, and adding little things here and there for everybody. Drums, bass guitar, whatever. The guy is a songwriting genius, so he really helped our sound on this record. We spent a week at Zing Recording Studios in Westfield, Massachusetts in October recording the drums, and then everybody moved between Adam D’s house and Matt’s home studio to finish guitars and everything else.”
At the time of penning Fire From The Sky, Shadows Fall wasn’t contracted to a record label. “When we started writing we weren’t signed, but we had something that was already on the table,” the percussionist notes. “We weren’t exactly sure what was gonna be happening though, like whether or not we were gonna do the Everblack thing again or whether we were gonna go elsewhere. We had a few deals on the table, but we decided that the best option for us was to go to Razor & Tie.”
For the first occasion since debut outing Somber Eyes To The Sky, Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz handled production duties. “Adam’s been a good friend of the band for years,” Jason enthuses. “Jon and Adam used to be in a band (Aftershock) together many, many years ago, so there’s always been that connection. We’ve always wanted to work with Adam in the past, but we just never got a chance to because our schedules just never matched. It just turned out that this time it worked. Adam is a very, very hard worker, and he definitely pushes you to get every little bit out of you that he can possibly get out. He helped the whole band with everybody’s parts – drums, guitars, vocals. He was instrumental every step of the way. He’s very good to work with. He doesn’t let anything slip by; if you play something that he doesn’t think sounded good, he’ll tell you ‘No’ easily (laughs).
“I’m pretty confident that after 10 years of being in a band I can write my own drum parts, but you always wanna have that other ear that’s not your own. When you think something sounds cool or something goes well with the music, you could be totally wrong. Just because you’re working on this part that you think it’d be awesome to put this cool right cymbal thing or double-bass thing on, you never know whether you’re gonna be crushing the guitar line or coming in over the vocals. Adam was there to say ‘Dude, take that part out,’ or ‘Let’s change this part to that.’ As I said, he helped with everything.
“A lot of times, with me and my parts it was phrasing things. He was like ‘You just played the hi-hat for the verse. Let’s get off the hi-hat and go to the crash for the chorus instead of going to the ride.’ It was just those little inflections that you really don’t think are a big deal, but when you listen to it sonically it’s like ‘Oh yeah, that really opens up that part a lot better.’ At first I was just a little bit apprehensive to start working with him because I know how hard he can be to work with as a producer, as far as busting your butt and getting everything out of you that he can. We really, really had no problems in the studio though. I think pretty much every suggestion that he had for me drum wise, I was in agreement with. As I said, there were no problems there. He got the best out of everybody in this band.”
Critiqued against other producers who Shadows Fall have worked with, the rhythmist feels that Adam “just works differently. Everybody that we’ve worked with – Zeuss, Nick Raskulinecz, Adam – are all great producers at what they do but everybody has a certain style, a certain niche in something that they’re good at. Adam’s one of those musical genius guys, with a perfect pitch and everything. He’s just one of those dudes that knows what to do; when we’re like ‘Alright, we need something here but what is it?,’ he seems to be able to come up with that answer.”
A press release issued in conjunction with Fire From The Sky states that the record ‘features some of Shadows Fall’s most melodic material in years.’ “I don’t think this is the most melodic output from the band at all,” Jason dismisses, however. “There’s definitely tons of melody on it, but I think this is definitely on the more heavier, brutal side than it would be melodic. If you want me to pick the most melodic record we’ve done, I’d say that would be Threads Of Life personally. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t leave out the melody because there’s plenty of melody on there – there’s plenty of sing-song choruses. There’s definitely a few songs that definitely could be on active rock radio, but I’d say as a whole it’s definitely towards the more heavier side of the band without a doubt.
“I think the song ‘Divide And Conquer’ that we’ve been playing live is a perfect example. ‘Save Your Soul’ is an amazing melodic song, and has an incredible chorus part to it. There’s a song called ‘Walk The Edge’ as well, and that really is another one of those that walks that line of melodic heaviness as well. I would say Fire From The Sky has got a perfect balance of heaviness and melody, just like The War Within did. That’s what I would compare it to. It’s another step in the evolution of this band; with every single record we do, we put out the best record that we can put out as a band at that time.”
That very same press release also states that Fire From The Sky ’features some of Shadows Fall’s most complex material in years.’ “I think it’s a Shadows Fall record,” the skin-beater muses. “That’s pretty much what I think about it. We’re always gonna have that level of complexity to our songs and we’re always gonna have a few songs that are on the ‘simpler side,’ but we’re a technical metal band. That’s what we do. We have guys that are proficient at playing their instruments and we’re proud to do that, so we’re never gonna write a dumbed down chug-chug record. I think it’s never gonna come out of this band (laughs). We always like to push the envelope. It’s just like Iron Maiden; when Iron Maiden puts out a record, you know it’s Iron Maiden.”
Jason feels that memorability is a greatly important facet of a chorus. “When I find myself singing along to the chorus all the time, that’s when I know it’s a good chorus – one that sticks in your head,” he reckons. “It doesn’t matter where you hear it, like on the radio or wherever. If it has a good chorus – something that sticks in your head – and two days later you’re humming some melody and you’re like ‘What’s that song? That’s that song I heard on the radio the other day,’ then that’s a good chorus.”
The drummer’s responsibility to the material is to keep Shadows Fall musically together. “My job is to be the glue,” he judges. “I’m lucky to be in a metal band where I have the ability to be able to play a little bit more than just a standard punk band or rock band or whatever, but my approach to writing drum parts is always thinking about serving the song. That’s the drummer’s responsibility. If this was the Jason Bittner Project then I would just do whatever I wanted to do and whenever I wanted to do it, but that’s not the case. There’s four other guys in the band; there’s two guitar players, there’s a bass player, and a singer. I have to be aware of what they’re doing as I’m creating my parts, and that’s why we go through the pre-production process repeatedly. If I come up with some cool fill or something, who cares if it’s stepping all over the chorus line? If Brian’s trying to sing something that’s an important part of the song and I’m just there wailing, it kind of defeats the purpose. You’ve gotta think of the big picture, so that’s really what the drummer’s goal is. As I said though, in this kind of music we’re lucky enough to have a little bit more of a chance to spread our wings so to speak.”
One might deem the role of the drummer largely a supporting one, though Jason disagrees. “I don’t think it’s a supporting role, but an integral part of the whole complex,” he suggests. “It’s peanut butter in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; you can’t have one or the other. You need both of them. You need bass, you need lead guitar, you need rhythm guitar, you need drums, and you need vocals. It’s one-fifth of the whole mixture. I don’t think there’s anybody in this band that has a supporting role. We’re all in this together, basically.”
Fire From The Sky was mixed by Brian Virtue. “We wanted it to sound sonically huge, to be able to have audibility on all of our parts,” the sticksman divulges. “We wanted to just kick people in the ass when they hear it (laughs). This one was a little bit more challenging though, because we were trying to basically listen to the final mixes when we were in Australia on tour. It was definitely a challenge to try to keep up with the process while we were on the other side of the world with limited email access sometimes, but it worked out.”
Forefathers designed its cover artwork, meanwhile. “Forefathers did an amazing job,” Jason beams. “It just looks like what might happen if you had an apocalypse (laughs). The fallout so to speak, no pun intended. To me, Fire From The Sky is just explained by just looking at that picture pretty much (laughs).”
‘The Unknown’ has been touted as Fire From The Sky’s lead cut. “That song came from riffs that we were starting to come up with on the Mayhem tour, and was the first to be written,” the percussionist discloses. “Like I said, it’s a collaborative effort. Sometimes someone comes in with a part, and sometimes we jam on stuff when we’re there. This record was really done through a lot more jamming than we’ve done in the past.
“‘The Unknown’’s music video is a storyline, a whole concept video. It’s pretty crazy. There’s a crazy guy in there. It’s pretty intense. It was filmed with Kevin Custer. Who knows if we’ll film more videos though? We don’t even know yet. It’s a day by day thing. Usually it depends on what happens once your album cycle starts; if you start getting a buzz and momentum usually that stuff is in the pipeline, but we don’t know. We don’t have any plans. We didn’t even know that if were gonna be shooting a video; we kind of got surprised that we were doing this one as quickly as we did, so anything’s possible.”
Fire From The Sky was released on May 15th, 2012 through Razor & Tie.
Interview published in May 2012.
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