Warrel Dane – Shadow Work – Album Review

warrel cover

Artist: Warrel Dane

Album Title: Shadow Work

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 26 October 2018

It is rare that I find myself so conflicted when faced with a music review. Normally, I’ll listen, decide if I like it and then either comment accordingly or ignore the record. This album is very different.

Firstly, I wasn’t even aware that this was on the agenda. It simply wasn’t on my radar. So, having got over my initial surprise, I was faced with other emotions: sadness, guilt, delight, general discomfort and a strong sense of unease.

As we’re all aware, Warrel Dane, formerly with Nevermore and Sanctuary, passed away from a heart attack in December 2017. It was a shock to the metal world to lose arguably one of our most adept and distinctive voices, the shock being even greater given it’s sudden and unexpected nature and at such a comparatively young age. So, to listen to this, I feel a definite sadness – anything else would, I think, be abnormal. Even more so given the fact that Dane’s passing occurred during the recording process of his second solo release, the very material that I am listening to now. To say it is a poignant experience is an understatement.

Conversely, I feel delight because I was never expecting to hear new material from the great man. But then, almost immediately I am engulfed in guilt that I am feeling so happy about this release. This then feeds in to the sense of unease that I have because, as the press release is clear to state, not all of the vocal tracks are the final, polished recordings. Should the label be releasing this album in that case? Should fans be privy to this if it isn’t in its finished state? It is the age-old argument that comes about with any deceased artist, but nevertheless, it still doesn’t cease my general unease.

I wrestled for some time over whether or not to review this record but eventually felt that I owed it to Warrel as a posthumous recognition for all the great music he has contributed to over his all-too-short, yet illustrious career.

So here we have ‘Shadow Work’, around 40 minutes of music that arose from the writing and recording sessions in São Paulo during the latter stages of 2017. Joining Warrel are guitarists Johnny Moraes and Thiago Oliviera, bassist Fabio Carito and drummer Marcus Dotta, Dane’s touring band whose chemistry led, in part, to the possibility of a second album. This album was apparently due to be twice as long as it is, but I’m just glad to have something to listen to, as a tribute if nothing else.

Anyone familiar with Nevermore or Dane’s debut solo album, ‘Praises To The War Machine’ will hear plenty on ‘Shadow Work’ to enjoy and soak up one last time. It is impossible to not hear Dane’s past endeavours in this music because his voice is just so unique. Literally no-one sounds quite like him and as a died-in-the-wool fan as I am, this is the most difficult thing to come to terms with.

warrel photo

But equally, it is quite uncanny how the cast of musicians behind Dane have managed to produce a sonic tapestry that has strong echoes of previous work and which suits the voice so perfectly. The guitars are deep and throaty with a demonstrable thrash-meets-power metal vibe, the bass is suitably weighty and the drums are powerful and sufficiently expansive when the music dictates. In fact, this whole thing sounds satisfyingly fat and commanding as a good heavy metal album should.

In slightly unexpected fashion, the opening minute-long ‘Ethereal Blessing’ blends Indian-style instrumentation with something quite lush and orchestral. It’s an intriguing start, one that certainly gets you wondering as to what might follow.

It doesn’t take long for these quandaries to be answered because ‘Madam Satan’ literally explodes from the speakers. Exuberant power metal guitar leads overlay thunderous drumming and layers of synths. Before long, the song descends into all-out thrash attack complete with scything riffs and a potent rhythm section. In marches Dane at this point and immediately takes the limelight with a typically vibrant and melodic-yet-gravelly delivery, his intonation and style intriguing as always. The chorus, as evidenced on his debut solo record, is a huge melodic affair, albeit with a dark edge. The theatrical nature of the song is not lost on me either, both in terms of the vocal performance and the surrounding multi-layered soundscape. According to those close to this record, this powerful track was supposed to feature blast beats and gruff vocals, but that hasn’t materialised under the circumstances. To be honest, I question whether these elements are even necessary.

‘Disconnection System’ is equally as hard-hitting, but starts off with a slower, more menacing tempo, more akin to the ‘Dead Heart…’ era of Nevermore. It does pick up the pace at times, and I love the sweeping lead guitar that features within the chorus. However, this is a more ‘progressive’ track in that it lurches from one idea to another, verging on an unholy cacophony at points, but always pulled under control by the chorus melodies.

Without question, the stand-out song on ‘Shadow Work’ has to be the truly anthemic ‘As Fast As The Others’, a track that is blessed with beautiful melodies and a poignancy that calls to mind a couple of cuts from Dane’s debut solo effort, such as the emotional ‘Brother’. As immediate as the melodies are, it is the lyrical content that hits me hardest. To hear Dane sing about the cruelty of children and his proclamation that: ‘if you can run as fast as the others, you will still be my brother, if you can sail into the wind, you will still be my friend’, it sends shivers down my spine and it is here more than ever that the realisation truly dawns that Warrel Dane isn’t coming back, no matter how hard we wish it was otherwise.

There is rarely a weaker moment to be heard, a testament to Dane’s quality control and his song writing abilities. However, further highlights include ‘The Hanging Garden’ with its frenetic introduction that borders on symphonic black metal in terms of speed but which also delivers plenty of sharp aggressive riffs and then changes tack completely to produce a slower, more measured chorus, almost completely at odds with the remainder of the track.

If you’re a sucker for a strong melody or a metal ballad, be sure to check out ‘Rain’, whilst the closing nine-minute ‘Mother Is The Word For God’ makes an impact as much for the deeply personal lyrical content as it does for its extended length that allows for plenty of dramatic intent and variation, from acoustic guitars, to quieter introspective passages and the obligatory all-out power/thrash attack for which I’m such a sucker.

Ultimately, any kind of score for this album is unnecessary and redundant. Those who are fans of Nevermore and Warrel Dane will almost certainly buy this because it is the last chance to hear new material from him. And, in any case, this isn’t the finished article, not what Dane and his band had originally envisaged. On top of that, I cannot guarantee that my score won’t be influenced by sentimentality. All you need to know is that I like it and, if you’re a fan of Dane’s previous output, you’re likely to as well. So, for once I’ll leave the score blank and simply say this: Warrel, thanks for the music, rest in peace.

The Score of Much Metal:

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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Beyond Creation – Algorythm
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Decembre Noir – Autumn Kings
The Odious Construct – Shrine of the Obscene
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