My initial encounter with Shadows In The Crypt was in Philadelphia while checking out my good friends in Haethen perform through some of their newer material and to check out the fascinating Hivelords' live show. Shadows In The Crypt was on third or second or something. I watch the first two songs, felt underwhelmed and bored and went back to the bar. Later in the evening, I was passed their "Fanatical and Ready To Die" demo. Though quite bleh live, this demo is actually fairly decent and would inspire me to see the band live again should they play locally. It's no secret that the band is black metal by their logo though their moniker hints at melodic death metal, in my opinion, and the artwork on the release fits neither. It's actually one of the very few gripes I have with Shadows...
This would, by my standards be considered a demo. It is a CDr with handwritten titles and presented in a plastic sleeve. Far too many bands I see live I ask if they have anything physical to give me and usually about eighty percent say they have nothing. Kudos to the band for putting out a physical release of some sort. Initial listens reveal capable guitar playing, especially with the leads on any of the four tracks which are executed very well. Though the drums are programmed, they are programmed competently and sound like a real drummer in the patterns. I notice in spots that the programming tries to be quite true to a real drummer. Vocals are typical and generic and are probably the weakest part of Shadows..., at least on this release but that could be due to the biggest problem here.
The mix on the tracks is not consistent. The levels on opening track, and title track, "Fanatical (Ready To Die)" are way louder than the output on other tracks. The difference is apparent as soon as second track The Great Apocalyptic Storm begins at a significantly lower volume . The consistency in this regard sounds haphazard. Other noticeable problems appear on this track such the hotness of the rhythm guitars during the solo which leads to audible clipping and the vocal panning which was most likely overlooked. On both the opening title track and the punctual second track, the vocals are set entirely to the right speaker. This is thankfully correctly in third track, "Lamb Betroth To The Harlot," though the overall volume here is lower yet again compared to the second track and at the 3:56 mark is a bad edit and the song has a full four seconds of silence at the end which hurts the energy built up by that song going into final track, "The Abyss Open Wide." and the third track - the longest at six minutes - may actually be lower yet! In the future, Shadows needs to correct these things to reach their full potential. Vocals panned to one side renders the focus on them negligible and secondary.
The songs themselves though are not bad. Opener, "Fanatical...," does hint at some more modern metal influences such as in the palm muted chugging under verses and the solo section. Vocals, though emotionally presented on all of the tracks are monotone though moments of clean vocals and lower, deeper bellows dot the nineteen minute demo. The guitars are natural sounding on the album though they push the peak decibel levels too far in "Fanatical...," and I would much rather have had the same production as on third track, "Lamb Betroth To The Harlot," which is smoother, clearer and sounds less - in a bad way - distorted. This track is also my favorite on this release. It incorporates several different styles of vocals including raspy and snippy black metal vocals, some lower register grunted moments and demonically narrated moments. There are some atmospherics at work on this track too during the bridge to the central instrumental section where keys lay a slight melodic fog. The second half of the song, which follows, contains strong solos and leads and memorable rhythmic variations. "The Abyss Open Wide," once again makes use of the several vocal styles at use on the release and follows in the footsteps of "Lamb...." but an out of place melodic death metal riff and generic solo rhythm prevent the final few minutes of this track from being particularly rewarding.
Perhaps my main point in regards to Shadows In The Crypt is that, just because a band doesn't impress you live, doesn't mean that they won't provide something more interesting in a different format. I'm going to give them another chance live because this isn't a terribly bad demo and, I think, it's better than a lot of other more mediocre releases I've heard from local projects. I don't know how well the band will fare against far superior international acts and I expect that there won't be too much interest in this outside the local scene until Shadows in the Crypt can create something more effective and a little less generic which, based on this demo, I think they have the ability to do. There's a lot of positives here but still some work needed in other places.
12/26/2012 Edit: According to the band this demo was intended to be a way for people to check out the album should they not want to actually purchase merch. There is a professional release of this with lightscribed discs and proper packaging for those that purchase the release. What I reviewed is simply that which was handed to me at a show.