Shallow Ground - The end of everything 3.5/5
1. Shallow Ground
2. Death and destruction
3. The black rose
4. End of everything
5. Whence they came
6. Before the dawn
9. Cleansing of the hollow
One of my happier discoveries at this year’s Warriors of Metal Festival was Shallow Ground. This quartet from Connecticut play a brand of old-school thrash metal that deviates in several important respects from the retro thrash blueprint to which so many new acts so slavishly adhere. As an initial matter, these are no wet-behind-the-ears teenagers emulating bands whose heyday dates back before they were born. Shallow Ground may have just released their debut CD, but they are no newcomers. Indeed, the band originally formed back in 1994 around the nucleus of guitarists Keith Letourneau and Tim Smith, both of whom remain integral to Shallow Ground today. For whatever reason (my guess: the changing musical climate of the time), the project was shelved from the mid-90s until 2009, when Letourneau and Smith breathed new life into the dormant beast. A new rhythm section (bassist Nick Ziembicki and drummer Kurt Ragis) entered the fold, and Letourneau added lead vocals to his 6-string responsibilities. After inking a deal with Germany’s boutique Killer Metal Records label, Shallow Ground delivered their debut full-length CD, ‘The end of everything’, earlier this summer.
Not only are Shallow Ground from the original thrash metal generation, but they also distinguish themselves from today’s cookie-cutter thrashers by injecting a few different elements to their music, rather than simply thrashing away mindlessly for 59 minutes. One of the most striking features of ‘The end of everything’ is the penchant of Letourneau and Smith to drop in unexpected melodic guitar flourishes, such as the clean interlude in “The black rose” or the ultra-catchy NWOBHM-influenced chorus theme in the title track. “Whence they came” is a midtempo number that sounds more like Metal Church or Meliah Rage than Bay Area thrash, with a stout sing-a-long chorus that works brilliantly in the live arena. Then there’s “Before the dawn” which begins with a beautiful acoustic intro and then, 4 minutes of neck-snapping heaviness later, gives way to a stunning, lengthy, unaccompanied harmony guitar section that most thrashers would be afraid to try and unable to execute. The track ends with more acoustic guitars and a military snare coda. Wow. Shallow Ground nails it. Far from watering down the final product, these dalliances into realms of more melodic and traditional metal strengthen the CD by punctuating the chainsaw thrash with enough melody and ear candy to keep the listener engaged and make the music memorable. This idea of dynamics and melody is something of a lost art in the thrash world today, where the 20-year-old kids in patch jackets, skinny jeans and white high-tops simply recycle old Exodus riffs at warp speed for 40 minutes. But Shallow Ground understand.
Based on the above, you’d be forgiven for surmising that Shallow Ground must play some kind of thrash/NWOBHM hybrid. But that’s not quite accurate, you see, for Shallow Ground have added other elements to their musical stew as well. Vocally, Letourneau is not at all in the mold of a typical thrash singer, offering a bark that sounds more like Pro-Pain’s Gary Meskil than anyone in the thrash genre. Letourneau would be the first to protest that he isn’t really a singer and that he sings more out of necessity than desire. But here’s the thing: Attitude and conviction are prized commodities for thrash vocalists and Letourneau’s cup runneth over with those attributes. Plus the semi-hardcore bark gives Shallow Ground a distinctive sonic edge that helps distinguish them from their peers. So let’s see, then. We have a genuine old-school thrash framework, embellished with melodic/traditional metal guitar flavors, spiced with angry Pro-Pain type vocals, and a hint of New England hardcore in the music. I can’t quite put my finger on that last bit, but from living in Boston through most of the 90s, I can definitely pick out that element in Shallow Ground’s music (for an idea of what I mean, think Wargasm’s ‘Suicide notes’ CD, although the influence is much fainter here). Makes sense, of course, since the band hail from Connecticut.
Now, none of this is to say that Shallow Ground are mandatory listening for thrashers or metal fiends. Not everyone will dig the vocals. There’s some awkwardness in the lyrics, most notably on “Prostitution”, which addresses the violent demise of a lady of the night with the line, “Eh, she was a whore anyway.” And ‘The end of everything’ is a lengthy listen that requires patience both in the overall running time and the extended nature of the songs, several of which exceed the 6-minute mark. For what it is, though, ‘The end of everything’ is a whole lot of fun. Thrashaholics who crave something old-school, but with a distinctive twist, may find a lot to like in Shallow Ground. I certainly did.
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