01. The Reaping
02. Death With Regret
03. Severed Inception
05. In Time
06. The Summoning
07. Serpent Of Old
08. Forged By Fire
09. Firstborn Of The Dead
11. A Will Into A Way
12. Harvest Of Shame
Melodic death metal is a genre which appeals to a pretty vast audience, and has ever since its inception back in the early 90s. A couple of decades later it seems as though everybody and their dog is not only listening to it but also creating it – from Europe to Japan to South America, North America and so on – thus causing the genre to be grossly over-saturated in this day and age – and without leaps and bounds towards its progression…for the most part.
Enter First Reign, a Canadian band who, on their triumphant sophomore album Harvest of Shame, seem to play the style completely by their own rules . You can hear some influences or similarities to bands such as Lamb Of God, Extol, Into Eternity, Death and Darkane at the surface on initial spins, but on further listens the band’s own originality shines through. There’s not even any need to name-drop, as these guys can hold their own as they carve out their identity through a labyrinth of warped mirrors, often contorting what is seemingly normal upon first glance – or listen.
Opening with an introspective sounding piano piece called “The Reaping“, Harvest Of Shame plays out as a pleasant surprise, constantly unfolding and expanding, and although First Reign wield contrast wildy like a broadsword, there are no uplifting major-key power metal anthems – the closest you’ll get to that is the slightly Amon Amarth-like “Forged By Fire.” That said, there are many noteworthy riffs and solos amongst the blackened and almost neoclassical minor-key ripping twin-guitar assault of Ryan MacDonald and Chris Holtz, covering the full forty-six minute run time.
Clearly everyone in the band knows how to handle their instruments exceptionally well – vocals included, lead by Dallas Erickson – and backup by the aforementioned guitarists, which often toggle between grim, guttural and clean throughout – sometimes even merged as one, such as on the hooky chorus of standout track “Severed Inception“. The rhythm section of Russ O’Shea (bass) and Sean Lang (drums) is absolutely air-tight while blazing through several lightning fast changes and even gliding through slower atmospheric numbers like the album’s short but expressive instrumental “In Time.” Lang’s drumming is exhilarating and spanning a number of diverse blasts, pummelling double kicks, creative grooves and fierce fills. His versatility is also shown going into the more straight ahead groove of “Lore,” which provide a nice juxtaposition, as do the track’s varied vocals. Fans of older Dark Tranquility and At The Gates will love this one for the riffs.
Harvest Of Shame has four short instrumental tracks, including “The Summoning” which serves as an acoustic guitar intro to “Serpent of Old,” and “Famine” which sounds as if it was recorded/produced at a separate time and place, giving it a bit of a disjointed disposition on the album. In reality, they probably should have cut the fat by axing these instrumental tracks altogether for more consistency, but then perhaps the album would have lost its conceptual/experimental feel and its extreme dynamics, which see the band go from piano and acoustic guitar to full on screaming, blasting and shredding.
The dynamic is present in other ways, however. ”A Will Into A Way” is a contorted prog metal melee with some odd-time signatures, showcasing a more tech side of the band – with twisted moments reminiscent of prog death/thrash legends Atheist and Believer - whilst the clean vs. chanting vocal chorus of “Death With Regret” will probably be stuck in your skull for a while, as it showcases that First Reign not only know how to rip on their instruments, but also knows how to write memorable songs. Furthermore, the relentless attack of “Serpent of Old” really launches out of the speakers at full force and is pretty damn crushing with a really prog/tech bridge before a killer melodic guitar solo or two, and ”Firstborn of the Dead” is absolutely deadly with memorable riffs (some tapping going on here), jarring rhythms (some great unexpected changes) and simple but effective clean chorus vocal tag (four effective descending notes).
Production wise, the band was at the helm along with producer/engineer Jason Campbell (Erase, Mortification) and the result is a solid contemporary metal production with a well rounded mix. There’s a lot of nuance and detail in the music and it all comes through with clarity. The creepy cover art was done by American Visual Artist Caitlin Hackett and suits the dark, deformed vibe of the material within. Adding to the visual flair is an effective band logo by Typographer/Designer Christopher Horst.
For those who have grown weary of melodic death metal’s seeming stagnation, this is the refreshing and exciting melodeath album that you need to hear this year!