*Shels - Sea Of The Dying Dhow (Undergroove)
By: Ken McGrath
Progressive, wall-of-sound-building, dynamic. Any of this familiar to you? Could be any number of bands, eh? Not this time. Englandís *Shels might fit part of the mold that casts out mostly instrumental, powerful metal acts, but they shifted course before the plaster had time to set, thus taking on a slightly different and unusual shape.
Any band doing this type of music is, of course, going to be compared to Isis. But *Shels manage to inhabit a middle ground, bridging the former band's heaviness with the more soundtrack-like sounds of Red Sparowes, while throwing the occasional oddity in there to ensure they stand out from the pack.
Formed from the various splinters of Mahumodo, Eden Maine and Fireapple Red, "Sea Of The Dying Dhow" (a dhow is a traditional Arabic sailing vessel) is *Shels' first proper album, having released an EP in 2004. The challenge of filling an hour with inspiring, interesting and captivating sounds hasnít proved to be too difficult for them. Opening like Isis at the beach with "The Conference Of The Birds," things shift from being serenely gentle and spaced out to mountainous and thundering, often in seconds. Album closer "In Dead Palm Fields" encapsulates this perfectly in its nine-plus minutes. Shifting gears from almost romantic bliss to crushing force, itís hypnotic and engaging, deeply sad without descending into despair, like a loss youíve learned to deal with but which still tugs at you every so often.
During "The Conference Of The Birds," the distortion rolls in a sudden wave. The trumpet at the track's end shows a lack of fear and innovation, and "The White Umbrella" ends with a monumental riff. "Water" is a beautiful piece that probably wouldnít be out of place on an Alter Bridge album. The grand-sounding song utilizes big running, sliding guitar block-chord riffs and expansive drumming. Yet on "The Killing Tent" the acoustics and atmospherics could lull you to sleep.
Overall the vocals are delivered cleanly, and while Medi Safa may not have the best singing voice, it suits the music heís working with. His voice acts as an extra texture, and the lyrics never detract from the songs.
On "Sea Of The Dying Dhow" *Shels have refused to bow to tradition. They bend the rules of a genre that already cannot contain them, and like their labelmates Twin Zero, they hold the promise of being truly great.