Nostalgia is a part of life, as inescapable as death, taxes and back hair. In moderation it’s a wistful and harmless reminder of happy times and precious moments1. Taken to extremes however, it becomes ABBA-centric musicals and ironical Hipster Hell (i.e. Williamsburg, Brooklyn). The biggest problem with throwback/retro nostalgia-core is the fact it must forever look backward at what’s already been done, rarely managing to inject modern ideas or sensibilities into the mix. Flying in the face of this truism, Lunar Shadow boldly strides out of Germany with a new take on living in the past. On their Far From Light debut they’ve paid homage to not one, but two beloved and bygone musical eras, fusing them together to create the rare double secret nostalgia-core album. The first era is, unsurprisingly, early 80s NWoBHM like Saxon, Iron Maiden and Angel Witch. Into this tried-and-true style they’ve injected a healthy draught of mid-90s Scandinavian black metal like Immortal and Dissection. Yes, it’s still backward looking, but at least it’s looking at the past in interesting new ways. That almost counts as originality in these days of high recycling.
The band holds many of their cards back on mammoth opener “Hadrian Carrying Stones,” opting to attack with a strictly 80s-centric onslaught. After some tasteful melodic plucking rife with moodiness, you’re abruptly dumped into a classic Maiden-esque gallop with trilling dual guitars and more old school flavor than a hunk of Hubba Bubba stuck under a desk since 1974. The 80s live large throughout the song as the guitars slather your ears with harmony after harmony, and you’ll hear traces of nearly every NWoBHM titan as well as early Queensryche and Fates Warning as the 10-minute compositions weedles this way and that. All the while vocalist A. Vornam does his part to cement the sound deep in the past with his high-pitched nasal delivery, often reminding me of Zeeb Parkes of Witchfinder General. The song is way too long but the plethora of fist pumping licks and leads do a good job of keeping the listener hanging around.
The band tweaks this 80s metal style on “They That Walk the Night,” creating something like a collaboration between Enforcer and Cirith Ungol and it’s undeniably fun, upbeat and rocking. The blackened edges don’t make an appearance until “Frozen Goddess” which introduces battle-ready riffs purloined from the armories of Immortal and Amon Amarth. The juxtaposition of these harder riffs alongside NWoBHM noodling is chaotic but interesting and the band manages to blend it together fairly well. They even inject some interesting doom elements into the stew on “The Kraken,” achieving interesting textures, including a quasi-black n’ roll stomp that works well.
The problem with their eccentric style is the ease at which it goes off the rails. Though there are many interesting moments over the 8-minutes of “The Hour of Dying,” the inclusion of so many divergent styles results in an overfull and chaotic song where icy trem riffs sideswipe traditional metal harmonies and blastbeats and harsh vocals erupt unexpectedly like geysers of over-exuberant creative juices. While I applaud the concept, the execution goes south and things end up feeling awkward and slapdash. Another soft spot in the armor is the mega-sappy power ballad “Gone Astray,” which is like too much unmanageable hair metal on a hot summer day despite some high-quality guitar work throughout.
At 57 minutes, there isn’t much restraint to be found. Most songs run at least 6 minutes with several hitting up into the ever dangerous 8-9 minute climes. For a band intent to do so much with every second of their music, such lengths prove ill advised and even pretty righteous songs like “Hadrian Carrying Stones” feel overlong and drawn out. This is a shame, because the core of what the band is doing is really interesting and they have the chops to pull it off if their writing and editing work in tandem.
There are few albums as guitar-driven as Far From Light. Max Birbaum and K. Hamacher use the material as their private riff garden and go batshit crazy with the noodling. They’re very talented and go out of their way to prove it with the extensive collection of memorable riffs they throw at you like so many empty beer bottles. A. Vornam’s vocals are of the love or hate persuasion and when the band goes deeper into the blackened end of the pool, his high-pitched wails sound out of place and unmanly. I grew up loving the kind of air raidy vocals he specializes in, but I can see others not being as kindly disposed.
Lunar Shadow is a band with a lot of talent and potential and Far From Light isn’t very far from being a great album. They need to tighten up their writing, streamline and unclutter things a bit, but the ingredients are all there ready to be turned into a monster metal moose cake with vintage icing. I’m definitely interested in what comes next for these new defenders of the olde.