In the Midst of Lions - Shadows
Current lineup: Matt Janssen (vocals), Ryan McAllister (guitar), Sam Penner (guitar), Jake Mitchell (bass), Alex Livingston (drums)
Overall rating: 7.5 out of 10.0
1. False Idols (3:09)
2. The Call (3:05)
3. Take Your Place (2:42)
4. Overcome (3:06)
5. Cry of the Oppressed (3:16)
6. New Beginnings (3:15)
7. An Offering (2:40)
8. Hardened Hearts (3:11)
9. Prepare the Way (2:27)
10. One for All (3:56)
I came downstairs today and found a parcel on the table. What could it be? I ripped open the packaging and found it was In the Midst of Lions' new CD, Shadows. Shadows is the third full-length album from these boys from St. Louis, following Out of Darkness and The Heart of Man. The band started out on Strike First Records, an imprint of Facedown, and then graduated to the big leagues after their debut album.
As a longtime fan of the band, I expected exactly what Shadows is: a fast, brutal album extolling the person of Jesus Christ. Furious riffs pile up on top of each other like a pile of hissing serpents, coiling and slithering with ill-concealed vengeance. Gurgling diatribes rend the air in waves of paplpable energy, emerging confidently from Janssen's vocal chords (now probably overtaxed from touring and three albums in three years).
The question in my mind was not what type of album it would be, but would In the Midst of Lions deliver? The short answer is yes. The album keeps up where The Heart of Man left off, with perhaps even better production quality. As I spam the album on repeat, I am quite pleased with the mix of breakdowns, guitar work, and throaty bellows. However, there are a few critiques that I couldn't help but notice. The album is short. Clocking in at just over 30:00 (and with not one song over 4:00), the album begins and then seems to abruptly end, leaving the listener wondering if there's a bit more. It's not necessarily a bad thing - but a bit longer albums tend to be more memorable. Also, the album is in some sense a bit repetitive. There are a few standout moments, but on the whole the listener knows exactly what to expect: fast brutality. It's one of the general critiques that I offer this band (and deathcore bands in general). Don't be afraid to slow down the tempo for a moment and focus more on melody - you don't necessarily have to bring in new instruments, but a change of pace can do wonders.
Overall, Shadows is a solid album. I'm not sure if it's their best album (I will have to listen more to be able to decide that), but it's definitely not mediocre. In the Midst of Lions is up there with the best of them. They have shown that they have a passion for the music that they write, and that they aren't backing down anytime soon.
Breakdown by song (for those of you interested)
Shadows slowly fades in and then commences with a breakdown. False Idols is a fast, fairly technical track with an obvious message: don't let anything come between you and God. The track is cyclic in nature, with breakdowns followed by a churning guitar line interspersed with vocals. The song sets the pace for the album and gives the listener an idea of what to expect.
The Call is a standout track filled with melodic guitar riffs. A few of the riffs even lean towards a groove-oriented rhythm. The breakdown towards the end of the song will have the listener bobbing their head along in time. I have no doubt that this one will be a great crowd pleaser.
Take Your Place isn't anything new. Meaning there isn't anything on the track that makes it stand out. Sure, it's heavy, and chock-full of breakdowns. But it's short and inglorious. In the Midst of Lions could have done something and departed from the mold with this song, but instead it's a bit bogged down and sunk in mediocrity.
The song Overcome has a pretty sweet tempo change a minute into the song: it goes from mid-paced tempo to blazing fast. The guitar line over the drumming is brilliant, and this segues into a string of heavy breakdowns that are pretty amazing. I feel that this track also showcases some of the best drumming on the album - Livingston is in fine form.
Cry of the Oppressed captures the listener's attention from the first notes of a shrieking guitar line backed by "This is the Cry of the Oppressed!" The guitar work on this song is phenomenal, and a bit reminiscent of solos on Out of Darkness. There is a musical theme in the song that starts out and slowly builds to a crescendo. Then it's back to the opening guitar riff. The song showcases the competent song-writing ability of the band.
So what's next? The track New Beginnings. The lyrics are catchy, a kind of liberated motif bouncing off of a famous Franklin D. Roosevelt quote: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." In the Midst of Lions transforms it to show that the only thing that Christians need to rely on is God: "There is nothing left to fear. Not even fear itself!" The melodies embedded within the song are reminiscent of The Heart of Man, and they also break into a brief spoken line. The guitar playing is excellent as well.
An Offering is a furious song that doesn't let up for a moment. It's short and sweet, but memorable. Only a few of the guitar lines sound copied from previous songs. Perhaps it's just a judicious ear listening too closely, but nonetheless the thought remains.
Hardened Hearts is both a warning and hardcore worship. "You are exalted among the nations. You are exalted in the Earth. Only You are worthy." In the Midst of Lions does exactly what they need to do with this song: they catch our attention, if it has drifted, and they give us memorable lyrics (a feat that they are very good at - lyrics like "Now tell me as the worms consume your flesh, do you fear my God now?" still roll off my tongue after two albums). They also break into new territory with a stand alone bass line towards the end of the song. In my opinion, it's one of the best tracks on Shadows.
Prepare the Way is heavy, but only offers a lesson in what the band shouldn't have done here. The song is fairly short and forgettable, and seems like an afterthought, a segue to the closing song. I feel like they should have put a melodic interlude here, or maybe a short spoken portion like they featured on Out of Darkness.
Boom! goes the dynamite. Or at least, that's theoretically what should happen with a closing song. One for All delivers, in one sense, but fails in another. The song is brutal, calculated and fairly technical. Breakdowns and background guitar lines spice it up a bit, but still fail to deliver a flawless ending diatribe. Is it bad? Certainly not. Only I'm not yet sure if it deserves to be the closing song.
That's it! Ten tracks heavy enough to snap your neck and break your back. All while proclaiming the name of Christ. Not an easy feat to accomplish in an environment where a good portion of the secular community is appalled by the lyrical content, and a majority of Christians would judge and send the band straight to hell. But In the Midst of Lions sticks to their guns and delivers.
How did I come up with my rating? Well, I have this little scale that isn't technical at all, but merely shows how I enjoy the album.
1-2 (Poor - throw it in the trash, give it to your dog to chew on)
3-4 (Not very good, probably a waste of money - but there's been worse)
5-6 (Average, but not exactly knocking my socks off)
7-8 (Pretty darn good. The band's got what it takes to be a favorite of mine)
9-9.9 (Excellent. Will be on repeat for a very long time)
10.0 (Perfect rating. Doesn't really exist)
Let me know what you think!