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Shadows Fall 

The War Within (Century Media)

Metal is a formalist, modernist genre. It's not nearly as important to be innovative as it is to make the strongest record possible. This is why classic, and classicist, acts like Judas Priest, Slayer, Lamb of God, and Atreyu were the most impressive performers on 2004's Ozzfest.

Shadows Fall understands this mind-set. Its last album, 2002's The Art of Balance, borrowed ideas equally from John Bush-era Anthrax and pre-Reroute to Remain In Flames. On The War Within, vocalist Brian Fair sounds more like Bush than ever, particularly on the fist-pumping choruses of songs like "The Light That Blinds" and "What Drives the Weak." The band's in top form, too, especially on the ambitious "Ghosts of Past Failure," which switches moods several times without ever losing the listener's attention.

Shadows Fall makes top-notch thrash. In the late 1980s, they would have been contenders, chasing the Four Horsemen (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax) up the charts. These days, they've gotta settle for being kings of the underground. But as classicists to the core, they're clearly in it for the love of metal.

More by Phil Freeman

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