My short tenure with everyone’s favourite Angry Metal website has already changed my views on music in profound and mysterious ways. Forming an opinion on an album used to be instinctual; I either liked what I heard (and thus listened to it repeatedly), or I did not. I have since realized things are not quite so black and white. What happens when faced with an album that is not enjoyable? Disregarding it is not an option. As great as it would be to write “this shit stinks” and call it a day, such a review be in rather poor taste and probably land me squarely in front of HR. A reviewer is required to form a deep and informed opinion on the piece they are reviewing which means that sometimes, they must force themselves to listen to music they would rather not. This can result in two possible outcomes; either the music grows on them and their horizons broaden, or they learn just how bad said shit can smell in seventeen different ways. Unfortunately, Light and Shade‘s The Essence of Everything finds itself much too close to the latter camp.
Light and Shade is a young group that offers up a conglomeration of symphonic power-prog. Landing themselves somewhere between Dream Theater, Nightwish and maybe even Amaranthe, The Essence of Everything is a frustrating misstep in more direction than one. Front woman Adrienne Cowan truly is the front and center of this band because her voice defines how the album sounds, and not in a good way. Simply put, she’s a terrible singer. Cowan makes her first real appearance on the track “Drown in the Absurdity” and boy, does it make an impression. Her growls enter the mix with ferocity, but the cleans to follow are rather frown inducing. The problem is, Cowan exercises very little restraint in her singing. To reach any of the higher registers she must scream at the top of her lungs, which is both incredibly grating on the ears and often out of tune. We could forgive her if this occurred but a couple times, but Cowan’s piercing cries echo throughout the album’s entirety, often completely distracting from whatever else happens to be going on in the music.
The Essence of Everything also suffers from numerous writing mishaps, many of which are all to common in the prog-power scene. Cheese crusted concepts and meaningless solos put aside, the album is about as generic as they come. Light and Shade do very little to carve a name for themselves in a crowd that is already saturated with bigger, better bands. The Essence of Everything also clocks in at close to an hour, a run time the album has not earned itself. The good news is that the ride tends to be diverse enough to not bore the listener, but the switch ups in mood and tempo do little to help if they generally lack in quality. For example, the ballad “Lionhearted” is placed perfectly in the album to break up the flow, but the acoustic work feels soulless and Cowan’s flaws as a singer are exposed yet again. This is just one of many such disappointing moments scattered throughout the record.
Reviewing music also makes you realize just how much wasted talent is out there, and that’s what makes a release like this so frustrating. Cowan is obviously passionate about her performance, and I’d be lying if I said she wasn’t giving her all with each and every track. Her voice definitely has power behind it, but it constantly feels as though its being misused. Guitarist Marco Pastorino display a lot of skill, but its used only sparingly. On tracks such as “Spirit of Anne” his playing is sharp and slick, but on others like “Welcome the Cold” the riffing is so generically boring that it’s exasperating. And yet, there’s also the occasional flash of writing brilliance. Titular track “The Essence of Everything” has some very cool moments, with the guitar riffing and vocal harmonies finally sitting me up in my seat until once again, Cowan’s preposterous cries come in once again like a nail gun to the eardrum. The inconsistency on display is completely absurd, and the positives are so few and far between that there’s no way they can sum up to a compelling listen.
The Essence of Everything is a tragic record. The members of this band are talented and I genuinely believe in their passion. Light and Shade has their moments, but those moments are so few that I cannot give this record any sort of recommendation. The combination of poor vocal choices, writing missteps and re-baked, rehashed lyrics and themes make this more than a tough sell. I’d skip this one, folks.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 160 kbps mp3
Label: Scarlet Records
Websites: scarletrecords.bandcamp.com/the-essence-of-everything | facebook.com/lightshadeofficial
Release Dates: EU: 2016.11.25 | NA: 11.18.2016