The Shadow Archetype
Metal Blade Records
“The shadow is an archetype that consists of the sex and life instincts. The shadow exists as part of the unconscious mind and is composed of repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires, instincts and shortcomings.” Or so says Carl Jung, that wacky Swiss psychologist and philosopher. That’s pronounced “Young” for the uninitiated. Jung goes on to say “This archetype is often described as the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos, and the unknown. These latent dispositions are present in all of us, although people sometimes deny this element of their own psyche and instead project it on to others. The shadow can appear in dreams or visions and may take a variety of forms. It might appear as a snake, a monster, a demon, a dragon, or some other dark, wild or exotic figure.”
OK, that is pretty heady stuff. What does it have to do with Swedish death metal band Shadow Archetype? A lot, as it happens. The Swedish death metal genre, although formulaic, is one of extremes, and by definition Jung’s shadow archetype deals with extremes of human nature. Take the album cover for example. A demon graces the cardboard; he invites you in. Monsters, snakes and dragons surround you as you place the record onto the turntable (you are listening to this on vinyl, aren’t you?) Ok, probably not. In fact you may not even have seen the album cover. Did I say it had a demon on it?
Shadow Archetype, formed in 1993 latest release, Evocation, was just dropped by Metal Blade Records on March 10, 2017. ” It’s definitely a new beginning for Evocation” says guitarist Marko Palmen, speaking for the band, which consists of Thomas Josefsson on lead vocals and the aforementioned Marko Palmen, as well as Simon Exner, scraping away at down tuned power chords that ejaculate all over the big fat bottom of Gustaf Jorde’s bass. And while I can tell you beyond a shadow of doubt that there are drums present on Evocation, nobody was credited for them. Considering that it is a rule that all bands must go through at least three drummers every six months or so (at least mine does) it is curious that nobody gets the blame.
Evocation bursts out of the gate with the super heavy Into Ruins and is followed by ten more super heavy, down tuned ditties designed to crush you, pound you and force you. I imagine a huge iron plate above my head that is slowly lowering on top of me when I listen to any song on Evocation. I once slammed into a car at 50 mph on my Harley and my right foot was crushed between the bike and the car. So I know crushing when I feel it. And I can tell you that this music has absolutely nothing to do with that. Did you really think I was going to say that this record is like slamming your bike into a car and at 50 mph and getting your foot crushed?
I said that I could listen to any song on Evocation and feel like I am being crushed. Therein lies the problem for me. Every song on Evocation sounds sorta the same. Sure there are variations, slower, faster but make no mistake – they are all a part of this record in a Gestalt sort of way. The big picture. I found that after listening I could not remember any of the songs. All I could remember was that crushing feeling I got from listening to it in the first place. The problem, then, is that crushing feelings and moods are simply not enough to support an album full of mediocre, hackneyed songs that demonstrate a band that is fearfully afraid of deviation from the accepted norms of its genre. In other words if you want to know what Swedish death metal sounds like just listen to Evocation. Furthermore, with a few rare exceptions, Swedish death metal itself is repetitive. I am sure that this band absolutely kills live, but on record they sound flat and lifeless.
I just said that the record is dull and lifeless. Why? While many reviewers might not pick up on this, as a producer I can tell you that although the mix sounds decent, the mastering is crap. Because all of Evocation is overly compressed. There is simply too much compression going on here.
Although you may not know what compression is, as a producer it sticks out like a sore thumb to me. It was like fingernails dragging across a chalkboard. I wanted to get the final mix and master it myself. Because too much compression will suck the life out of anything.
What is compression? Think of waves on a stormy ocean. Imagine that they are 20 feet high. At the very top of the wave is the peak. Then the wave passes and for a moment the water is back to its normal flat, valley level. Now imagine a sunny, calm ocean. It is flat.
There are no peaks and valleys. There is no differentiation between any two parts of the water. It is nowhere near as exciting to watch as huge waves in a storm (unless you are in a boat…) A sound wave is like an ocean wave. Sometimes it peaks and sometimes it is flat.
This causes dynamics in the music. The flat part, in this case, is desirable. Without the flat part as a counter to the peak the music will lack dynamics, and dynamics make for an exciting listen. What compression does, in a nutshell, is that it pounds the peaks into the valleys so that they can raise the overall volume of the recording.
But recall what I said about the stormy ocean being much more exciting to look at than a flat ocean. The uncompressed or lightly compressed recording is full of dynamics and would be the stormy ocean in our scenario, but the over-compressed one is like the calm, flat ocean. there is no differentiation between sounds – every aspect of the song is at the same place.
This makes for a lifeless end result, and it is a known fact that over-compression causes ear fatigue. Metallica’s Death Magnetic was so over-compressed (to try to make it louder) that even fans noticed it and they complained to Warner Bros. saying things like “unlistenable.” That is coming from non-producers. It was so bad that they had to release a second version that was not compressed as much. You see what it did to a band like Metallica; it does the same thing to Evocation and on a much lower budget.
If you are a fan of Swedish death metal, more specifically melodic Swedish death metal, then you would probably love this. You may go to one of their shows and you will probably have a great time. There is nothing wrong with this record, but to this reviewer there is nothing right either.