Shining Force - 'By The Blood' - Early Mix Review

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

On this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we touch on a section of the indie community that we’re not often presented with: Christian metal. I’ve always been a bit perplexed by it as a genre, but hey, if your music is a celebration of your spirituality, then I don’t think you need to be genre-restricted by any means. In any case, the band in question is Shining Force. Their upcoming record is ‘By The Blood.’ Now, though, we’re going to take a peek at a handful of early glimpses into it.

These early looks into ‘By The Blood’ aren’t fully mastered; they’re designed to be entryways into Shining Force’s music in anticipation for a more polished product. So with that in mind, I won’t knock them too heavily for any production issues. (Of which there aren’t too many, anyway - The sound is a bit muddled and has too much high end with a tinny timbre, but that’s about it.) There isn’t anything in the production of these early tracks that can’t be finished off in the studio. In fact, for non-mastered products, they are, for the most part, commendably solid.

There’s an interesting point I should make about these tunes. Despite what some people think, metal is a remarkably diverse genre, of which there are literally dozens of subgenres. Shining Force’s blend of metal is certainly hard core, but it has a classic flair. The band feels a bit like Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath. I really dig that; I have trouble when I have to review screamo-esque metal groups. Shining Force has found a nice balance between a retro style and contemporary musings.

When approaching their music, I was a bit apprehensive. The graphic for their music is a bunch of disembodied skulls superimposed over a sea of bloody crucifixions and dead pine trees. Once I dug into the tracks, however, I discovered a well-put-together and mostly tame sound. Once those non-secular Christian lyrics click in, the scary metal shroud is lifted. Early on, you’re met with typical Christian lyricism. You’ve got the power of Jesus and you’ve been saved by his blood... that sort of thing. In actuality, I find this lyrical content remarkably more interesting when attached to a metal outfit. If I turn on K-Love and listen to contemporary Christian pop, I get disinterested quickly. These guys harness the passion of their religion and couple it with the passion of true metalheads. That’s... well, passionate.

Early highlights include their explosive title track, ‘By The Blood,’ and the incredibly good ‘Demon Fighter.’ The latter is one of those pseudo-inspirational Christian songs, powering you up against the devil since you’re infused with God’s power. Again, the imagery matches the instrumentation surprisingly well. Which brings me to my next point: the instrumentation.

As aforementioned, the composition of Shining Force’s music feels rather traditional in terms of where it lands on the metal spectrum. There’s some serious shredding throughout and the songs are actually quite catchy, too. It’s so refreshing to see a return to metal where the passionate distortion and riffing is matched with sensible choruses and melodies. Lead vocalist Randy Dickey carries forward the torch in each song very well. He’s got a bit of an ‘Ozzy’ feel to him; he’s very suited for this kind of music. In fact, the whole band is right at home. I love the insane lead solos, perhaps the strongest of which is on ‘Resist The Devil.’ The drums are tight as can be, too.

‘Resurrected’ is another highlight; it’s lyricism is quite good. That’s an important note: when the band masters these tunes, they need to make sure to give Dickey ample room in the mix. If you lose his vocals, which you do on some of these early masters, the entire purpose of the music becomes muddled. When you have this kind of message, that message has to be the number one priority in the studio.

My favorite track of Shining Force’s right now is ‘Take Me In.’ It’s a beautiful number, one that shows a softer side to the group with atmospheric acoustic backing. It’s also a wonderful reprieve from the louder stuff. The drums do sound out of place in the mix, though, especially when the drummer rolls around at the end of verses. They’d actually do well to either mix the percussion way down, or remove it entirely.

‘The One I Love’ has a similar nature to ‘Take Me In,’ exhibiting more range on behalf of Shining Force. I really dig it when they go softer, but that’s because I’m not into metal. I can appreciate the previous metal tracks, but I can honestly get into the last two numbers I was presented with. They’re good classic rock tracks, spirituality aside.

I’m a pretty cynical critic and person, but I can appreciate religious music when it’s done properly. There’s a lot to really enjoy about Shining Force’s music. In fact, I’d argue they’re one of the more interesting groups making indie Christian music. Metal suits the message intriguingly well. They do, however, at times fall victim to what I like to call, ‘The South Park Curse.’ Many years ago, the infamous show made the observation that a whole lot of Christian music is just love songs with several words replaced. That’s totally how ‘The One I Love’ feels; switch a few words and it’s a ballad that’ll have the ladies swooning. For the most part, though, the band manages to make their music more unique, and this curse only befalls them a couple times throughout.

Check out Shining Force and keep tabs on them as they move forward and master this record. They’re a cool group and certainly something different to listen to.