Like many True Metal Lives readers, I suspect, my musical tastes hover in a pretty narrow range, rarely crossing beyond the cozy confines of the old-school and the traditional. It’s not that I’m intolerant, it’s just that I know what I like. Occasionally, however, I’ll stumble across something outside my comfort zone that catches my ear and captures my fancy. Such is the case for California’s Graveshadow, whose sound is something of a melting pot with elements of power metal, symphonic metal, gothic metal, and even bits of extreme metal and traditional metal too. The intriguing sonic package is bound together by the alternately beguiling and bewitching vocals of Heather Michele (ex-Helion Prime), who careens from a confident rock swagger to a vicious rasp like the deathly breath of Hecate herself at the drop of a hat. Left to my own devices, it’s honestly not the sort of thing I would ever check out. You know, comfort zones and all that. But last spring, I was on the road with Night Demon for a handful of shows on their US tour with Anvil, and Graveshadow were also on the bill. Night after night, Graveshadow won me over with their energetic performances and catchy songs like “Lycan Lust” and “Blood and Fire.” That said, I found their 2015 debut album, Nocturnal Resurrection, not to fully capture the power and intensity of Graveshadow’s live attack, too often getting bogged down in a murky sound and overbearing (for my taste, at least) keyboards.
Now signed to Marco Barbieri’s M-Theory label, Graveshadow have just released their second album, Ambition’s Price, an altogether more professional, polished and accomplished album than its predecessor. From the packaging itself, Ambition’s Price reveals a band ready to up its game and play for keeps. The striking cover painting from the marvelous Dusan Markovic perfectly captures the dark vibe and haunting spirit of the album, the band photography in the booklet uses light and shadow quite effectively, and there’s even a cool handwriting font for song titles and band members’ names. The same level of attentiveness, care and professionalism carries over to the music, as well. The songwriting is compelling from top to bottom, as Graveshadow have come up with an excellent batch of memorable tunes devoid of self-indulgent fluff or filler. Tracks like the awesome “Warchief,” “Widow and the Raven,” and “Hero of Time” are pure earworms that will embed their way into your brain from the first time you hear them. (Interesting side note: Graveshadow do not have a main songwriter, as Ambition’s Price features distinct songwriting contributions from each member, with a patchwork of disparate writing credits for each song like a recent Iron Maiden album, yet the whole thing hangs together beautifully.) Lead guitarist Aaron Robitsch, making his recording debut with Graveshadow on this album, did a superb job writing orchestrations that embellish, color and accent the songs without overwhelming them. And Heather Michele again impresses with a top-shelf performance that displays remarkable versatility, range and expressiveness at all points on the beauty/beast spectrum. Not to be overlooked in the plaudits is the studio wizardry of Night Demon guitarist Armand John Anthony, who expertly produced and mixed the album in a manner that enables Graveshadow to shine their brightest and showcase their strengths in a clean, powerful, uncluttered fashion. (Fun fact: the idea for Armand’s collaboration with Graveshadow on this record was actually hatched in my living room on a night off from the tour when both bands were crashing at my place. Not that I’m taking credit or anything: I just provided a couch, a boombox, and a hell of a lot of beer.)
I’m never going to be a gothic guy or a death-vocals guy, but none of that really matters when it comes to Ambition’s Price. Graveshadow have effectively cut across all those constraining subgenres and delivered an immensely listenable, enjoyable, rewarding album that may find favor with a wide variety of metalheads. Even if you’re a narrow-minded bastard like me, give Ambition’s Price a chance. Against all odds, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of this album. Give Ambition’s Price a chance, and you just might find yourself falling under Graveshadow’s enchanting spell, as well.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~