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Shear | Breaking the Stillness

by Mark Allen
Staff Writer —

Much like sitcoms and slasher flicks, modern female-fronted metal bands tend to follow an established formula, leading to an overall sense of ex-changeability within the genre. Sometimes it is impossible to shake the feeling that if you’ve heard one beautiful bombshell belting out breathy, operatic vocals atop chugging riffs, ephemeral keyboards, bombastic drums, and Pro-Tooled production, you’ve heard them all.

With Breaking the Stillness, their first full-length album (following a previously-released EP), Shear had a chance to break out of the mold a little bit, do something a little different and perhaps receive some appreciatively raised eyebrows from the metal community rather than the indifferent shrugs that so often greet new releases in this genre. Alexa Leroux is an extraordinary vocalist who can sing circles around most of her contemporaries, and yes, that includes Charlotte Wessels (Delain), Annette Olzon (Nightwish), and Amy Lee (Evanescence). The music focuses a little more on hard rock and power metal chops rather than the Gothic bombast so many other female-fronted metal bands indulge in, although to be fair, Shear incorporates these elements as well, just to a lesser degree. Add to this an impeccable production and engineering job that expertly synchronizes the band’s multi-layered musical approach and you have a recipe for success. So why does Shear leave the listener blasé rather than blissful?

In a word, the songs. Okay, that’s two words, but you get the drift. The songs just aren’t that special and all the pulverizing power chords and vibrant vocals and exquisite engineering in the world cannot compensate for this flaw. For all its assets, Breaking the Stillness is ultimately a frustrating listening experience, because you get a tantalizing sense of just how great the album could have been. You want it to be awesome, it should be awesome, but in the end it misses the mark, gutted by dull hooks or even no hooks at all. Shear are superior in so many ways to so many other bands in the genre, just not in the way that matters most. They commit the cardinal sin of failing to deliver songs you care about, and for a rock or metal band, that transgression is unpardonable.

That said, while the album as a whole is a hollow listening experience, there are a few songs that merit more than ambivalent dismissal. “In Solitude” is a ferocious composition with the guitars and drums punishing the soundscape, leaving the keys whimpering in the background like slaughtered lambs while the heavy metal train tears up the track on its way to a solid chorus. Further down the line is “Stillness,” which demands patience at first but then slams into gear and punches you in the face like a sonic fist, hitting hard and sending your head reeling in all the right ways. Rounding out the trinity of acceptable tunes is “No Way Out,” probably the purest metal song on the album, bursting from the gate like a hard-riding steed hell-bent on a kamikaze death-charge and God help anyone who gets in the way.

This album is like a gorgeous woman with a hideous scar jagging down her face from crown to chin. Sure, you can force yourself to see past the obvious flaw to the beauty that lies beyond, but even with that beauty in the background, you will still see that scar every time you look at her. This album has a stellar vocalist, top-notch metal chops, and polished production, but its scar is the lack of memorable songs. There is serious potential for this band to reach the pinnacle of the female-fronted metal genre, but they need to perform cosmetic surgery on their scars next time by writing sharper hooks. If they pull that off, they might very well create a masterful piece of metal art capable of stilling the tongue of any critic.

Genre: Female-Fronted, Melodic-Power-Symphonic-Gothic-Metal

Alexa Leroux (vocals)
Mikael Gronroos (guitars)
Lauri Koskenniemi (guitars)
Lari Sorvo (keyboards)
Juhana Karlsson (drums)

Track Listing
1. The Awakening
2. In Solitude
3. Scorched
4. Someone Else’s Eyes
5. Wounded
6. Redemption Awaits
7. Stillness
8. Crowned By Fools
9. No Way Out
10. Be Here Now


Label: Lifeforce Records

Hardrock Haven rating: 6/10