Lunar Shadow – Wish to Leave Review

Lunar Shadow is a relatively young act, but they’ve logged more miles on their progress-o-meter than some bands do over several decades. Here on album number three, Wish to Leave, they’ve undergone their third significant style shift. Having started life playing a form of  retro epic metal fused with black metal, they quickly shifted and incorporated a significant Goth rock element on 2019s The Smokeless Fire, while still trying to make their traditional/epic/NWoBHM/black style function. Now a scant year and change later they’ve shifted deeper into Goth rock and post/indie territory, placing them in the same universe as acts like In Solitude, Idle Hands and Spell. These dizzying stylistic shifts probably aren’t helping the band build a fanbase, but they sure make for an interesting case study for cold. clinical reviewers like yours Steely. So without further ado, let’s strap the electrodes to the lower sackal region and commence the exam.

Lunar Shadow is no stranger to long-form writing, and they show their lengthy credentials on the nearly 8-minute opening track “Serpents Die.” It’s an unusual tune, taking its sweet time getting moving, and then proceeding to ramble all over the genre market, from Cirith Ungol style proto-metal to melo-black, shimmering 80s Goth rock and throbbing darkwave. This makes for a bumpy ride with genre tropes rubbing up on each other in weird ways, but for the most part the band manages to make things smooth and interesting enough to enjoy. The key to the brisket basket is the killer guitar-work by Max “Savage” Birbaum and Kay Hamacher. Their playing sits in this strange neutral zone between the 70s and 80s with elements of hippie rock and NWoBHM bouncing off Mercyful Fate-esque dueling guitar harmonies and the most melodic of black metal. It’s the sort of thing that probably shouldn’t work but somehow does and it’s the album highlight by a wide margin despite being too long with some awkward moments and choices. “Delomelanicon” is an interesting blend of early proto-metal and Goth that reminds me of long defunct, criminally underrated Warlord, and Robert Röttig’s vocals fit well here since the song sits in one valley instead of meandering over many meadows. Also good is “And Silence Screamed” which is an upbeat, glossy goth rocker with a Manilla Road/Cirith Ungol sheen that provides an offbeat charm.

Sadly, some old and some new issues haunt Wish to Leave. The band’s penchant for long songs bites them in keister on closer “The Darkness Between the Stars,” which is solid for its first 5 minutes and rather dull and uninteresting for the final 5. This is unfortunate because those early moments crackle with energy and inspiration as the band brings back the black metal influence for some furious, thrashy runs and even throw in some “harsh” vocals for shite and giggles. “To Dusk and I Love You” on the other hand is a snoozer – an uber laid back piece that feels like a rejected Dire Straits cut at times. It’s not awful but it doesn’t add much to the album beyond some tasty guitar noodling. At 36 minutes the album doesn’t have a wealth of material, which is fine, but a good chunk of it falls short of the standard set by the better moments and when I view it as a whole, it feels a bit incomplete and duct taped together.

Max “Savage” Birbaum and Kay Hamacher deserve some kind of award for cramming so many interesting leads, harmonies and flourishes into this thing. The blending of genre styles is handled well and sparkling, sullen The Cure-style notes sit adjacent to sharper metal riffage and usually the transitions aren’t too jarring. A lot of things I loved about the sound heard on Spell‘s Opulent Decay are present here, and from a strictly guitar-centric perspective, it’s an impressive platter. Robert Röttig still struggles with his vocals at times and can hit certain notes that don’t sound right and sometimes sound quite awful. He does a mostly solid job though and the focus on Goth-centric sounds helps him greatly.

The promo materials state that the band sees this as their “make or break, sink or swim point.” I’ve wanted to fully buy into Lunar Shadow at each turn of the road, but there continues to be nagging issues that hold me back, and the constant push to change sound and style doesn’t conceal some basic problems in the writing and performance. Wish to Leave has some very enjoyable moments, but it’s quite the uneven grab bag of the good, bad, weird, and indulgent. I’m starting to question if these cats will ever find their own sound, but hey, I’ve enjoyed the wild hunt.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Cruz Del Sur
Websites: lunarshadow.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/lunarshadowband
Releases Worldwide: March 19th, 2021

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