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At The Soundawn - "Shifting" (CD)

At The Soundawn - "Shifting" CD cover image

"Shifting" track listing:

1. Mudra: In Acceptance and Regret (7:52)
2. 7th Moon (4:22)
3. Caofedian (7:08)
4. Drifting Lights (4:01)
5. Black Waves (7:56)
6. Hades (5:08)
7. Prometheus Bring us the Fire (9:17)

Reviewed by on June 1, 2010

"Is the album 'post rock,' 'post hardcore,' 'avant-garde,' 'prog metal,' or maybe 'ambient sludgy hardcore lounge music?'"

Italy’s At The Soundawn is a hard band to peg down, and their constantly moving sounds have the possibility to appeal to fans of just about any metal sub-genre. “Shifting” isn’t just the album’s title, but also one of the best descriptions of the music itself. The band’s second full-length offering is an incredibly free form and amorphous metal trip that doesn’t follow any set pattern. By systematically ignoring the norms of song structure, it prevents the music from ever truly landing in any specific classification.

The album habitually lets loose with mainstream or classical elements that have led many to title the music “post rock,” or even occasionally “post hardcore” due to the direction of the extreme vocal segments. For a few brief moments in the opening of “Mudra: In Acceptance and Regret” it almost seems like the instrumentation wants to break into big band or lounge music territory. Less than a minute later the harsh screams start, and then not more than a minute after that the music shifts gears into quiet and introspective sounds.

At The Soundawn knows how to use any given instrument to get the sound they want, whether it’s something slow and calming or harsh and aggressive. The silky sax and trumpet work in the opening track give the feeling of a hazy club just before the shit is about to hit the fan, showing a heavy noir influence. Those same instruments on “7th Moon” instead are an apocalyptic cacophony, dropping any evidence of the earlier laid back feelings.

Like nearly every element to be found on “Shifting,” the vocals never stick to a single style. There is a wealth of vocal inspiration to be found here, from incredibly smooth clean singing, to harsh screaming, and even some of those odd Faith No More styled vocals. A large bass presence also does wonders for the music, no matter what mode it’s currently in, and goes a long way towards distinguishing it from other extreme acts. From time to time it seems like At The Soundawn is about to drop entirely into something mainstream that could hit the radio, but somehow these moments don’t truly feel out of place.

Some of the tracks head into a vaguely trippy and sludgy sound, creating mesmerizing trails of music at times. The emotional calls of “Slow down!” throughout the track “Black Waves” are absolutely hypnotic when combined with the bass-heavy background. Some of those reflective moments seem unnecessary however, as the long quiet segments with echoing feedback are probably the main pitfalls to be found. With how much is going on in the other segments, the emptiness can make it hard to focus on the music.

“Shifting” has drawn some comparisons to Ephel Duath, and while that comparison is correct in its substance, At The Soundawn isn’t nearly as extreme nor as off the wall in their many transitions. Is the album “post rock,” “post hardcore,” “avant-garde,” “prog metal,” or maybe “ambient sludgy hardcore lounge music?” Whatever it is, the album is clearly one whole experience that can’t be fully understood by listening to a sample or even a whole track. The cohesion is exemplary, even if all the individual parts may not be well received by all metal audiences.

Highs: Amazing instrumentation, whether its trumpets or electric guitars, and the shift sound is hypnotic.

Lows: Some of the long quiet passages could have been cut down or replaced with something heavier.

Bottom line: A free form metal experience with influences ranging from rock to hardcore to lounge music.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)