Oldschool black metal has become a polarizing term that creates many debates when it comes to its relevance. Many folks would speak out that its charisma had long expired and that it was about time to move on with the latest trends. However, people like me do not necessarily agree to jump on the bandwagon and embrace whatever the mainstream spits out. You know why? Well, for one, new does not always mean better! And secondly, turning your back to the origins is like absolutely disregarding the very concept of an epic genre that has been extremely influential to countless artists. Thus, traditions matter a great deal and bands like Shadows Ground are aging with them while the taste of their work gets better and better.
In this sense, allow me to introduce the very first double CD walk-through of Ukraine’s formidable trio. The so-called death ride that I embarked upon started from Shadow Ground’s latest opus “The Roots” and then I moved on to their 3rd full-length “Phantom of Dead Star.” While listening to both of these, I had the opportunity to witness the band’s evolution from 2011 up to 2017. Their discography stretches all the way to 1998, mind you but for now, these 2 albums are good enough to inspire you to rediscover the very foundation of an art that breathes death and darkness. Without further due, let the feast begin!
The Roots | Order CD
The title speaks for itself in a clear and concise manner. This album draws a line back to the roots and it exemplifies how much potency lies in an era that is defined by primitiveness and minimalism. Although, there is a very thin line between ending up with a record that has been produced countless times already, this one managed to pull it off in a way that only true devotees could do; making music with a spirit that connects to the listener on a deeply emotional and otherworldly level. With that said, “The Roots” tears apart from the masses and outshines the vast majority of “wanna-be-true” attempts with a single swing.
Although, technically speaking, Shadows Ground deliver compositions of little intricacy when it comes to instrumentalship, it is still compelling and somewhat addictive. With no multi-layered textures whatsoever, these guys have managed to write and compose their hymns in a way that they turn around obviously simple arrangements into vibrant pieces of absolute darkness. There is no riff that would pass through me without resonating pure excitement out of an age that has never been so much alive
No matter how many times I listened through and through, “The Roots” fits perfectly the widely spread expression “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. With Shadows Ground’s profound knowledge of the black arts, they achieved a milestone that I personally crave for every time. Music that will make you lose yourself into the tunes and vibrate on the frequency of the primordial spirit. With that said, I have to admit that I wasn’t fond of the short total duration, which clocks at 37 minutes. I needed more time for the songs to unfold their essence. However, I believe that’s one of the many tricks that the band put in motion to avoid blatant repetitiveness, and thus, reached new heights in an already challenging sub-genre to squeeze more ideas from.
Speaking of the song writing, Shadows Ground are hands down craftsmen in weaving the 90’s aura into an evolved form of oldschool black metal. They have carefully tamed the wild nature of the modern wave that often washes way the original concept of this style and got only the vital ingredients. In this sense, it boils down to the excellent mixing and mastering, making it a pure treat to spend a few hours spinning on and on each of the 7 tracks. Now, I do have a single remark that is related to the production, and it goes straight to the design of the booklet.
As a person who has a passion for reading lyrics, I got struck as surprised by the extremely small-sized texts presented in this CD. How could such a beautiful design work be stigmatized by such an error? After all, there is one and only fundamental rule that a designer should be aware of, and it comes down to readability. In every aspect! Fortunately, this issue swiftly diminishes before the enormous potential of the music and I could swallow that imperfection along the way.
Essentially, does “The Roots” qualify as a good album, you may wonder? Well, it most certainly does and it surpassed my expectations by far. I was in for the cold and obscure vibe, and I got that in tremendous proportions. All those rhythms infused by some glorious tremolo riffs and solid drumming had me desire to headbang multiple times. Something that I scarcely do, quite frankly. Shadows Ground delivered what they do best – uncompromising black metal in the most traditional manner. All of that without boring and uninspired moments, mind you. Applause!
Side note: I normally don’t pay attention to lineups but I just couldn’t resist the urge this time. Excellent choice for recruiting Thorns (Deathrow, Fides Inversa, Martröð and MANY more) as a drummer! This guy rounds out an already solid collective and I can’t wait to see of what the future holds.
Released: 16th October, 2017
Now that I am done with “The Roots“, how about we jump into the next record, shall we? Like 6 years back in time and see how much Shadows Ground changed.
Phantom of Dead Star | Order CD
No doubt having been hooked with the previous release, I was instantly ready to embrace “Phantom of Dead Star” with arms wide open. No trails of scepticism clouded my visions and I was very eager to see more of the Ukrainian cult. Loading up the CD threw me far away from where I started my journey and man, it was nearly as much rewarding. A whole different side to Shadows Ground emerged and it was yet exciting and outright eviscerating.
Unlike the above presented CD, “Phantom of Dead Star” presents a significantly rawer production. I do need to clarify that this does not mean a ridiculous mash of indistinct sounds and shrieks that describe every copycat in the underground. This is masterfully controlled sound distortion that further thickens the obscure atmosphere surrounding each of the tracks. The dissonance is unreal; it powers up the instrumental work to a greater degree. Leading me to the next point.
I was literally blown away by the vision and talent that outline the instrumental part. So much hateful energy carried through blood-freezing riffs that are first and foremost memorable. The scent of death floats throughout the entire span of 7 songs and does not let go even for a single moment. This is black metal, folks! It is both frightening and grandeur and oddly addictive. On the other hand, I did stumble on a bunch of moments that made me raise several “whys” and all of them concern the drumming. My mind cannot comprehend why there is such an excessive crashing of the mid/low toms. These particular occurrences literally overshadow the vocals and the instrumentals leading to a momentary disbalance that I couldn’t bypass without that bitter taste in my mouth. That was mainly because I value so highly the beautiful work on the musical arrangements and I felt like somebody tried to take away the pleasure out of me.
Speaking of the vocals, you might have noticed that I didn’t give any particular comment in “The Roots” section. That was because they didn’t stick out as much as in “Phantom of Dead Star” for me. I appreciate the dynamics of a vocal work and Waam was nothing short but a hell beast in this album. With the diverse shrieks ranging from low to high-pitched levels seamlessly, I got deeper into the music itself and thus, felt closer the lyrics to my heart. From that point on, the sounds were no more but a wicked realm surging and I was as though in the midst of utter storms raging unrelentlessly.
“Phantom of Dead Star” packs 7 songs with nearly 39 minutes play time. Curiously, where “The Roots” didn’t deliver for me, this one makes up for that lack yet in other aspects is the other way around. For example, the design of the packaging is superior as to readability. The vocals are more intriguing thanks to the dynamic approach that doubles the intensity of the album. On the other hand, the above mentioned awkward drum passages put me off because they were too frequent and louder than they are supposed to be.
Although, I didn’t originally intend to compare both of the albums, it did happen naturally. I love them despite their minor flaws because nothing is perfect anyway. With the predominant positives that sum up exceptional grasp of song writing in a traditional yet unique on its own way, I most definitely got what I was promised. Adding on top the solid execution on nearly every part, I concluded that these albums are worthwhile a great deal. Make no mistake and immerse yourself into the vast Shadows Ground!
Note: No social media pages are available, so the only way to connect to the band is through their label Schattenkult Produktionen. Visit them on Facebook. Special regards for the physical material!
Originally released: 1st August, 2011 / Re-released: 20 November, 2017