Shadow of Everest is a Canadian progressive groove metal band hailing from the beautiful city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. (I recently featured another Nova Scotia artist, singer/songwriter Guy Paul Thibault.) Formed in 2014, the band’s line-up includes guitarist/vocalist John Vriend, bassist Shaun Cowell, guitarist Andew Welsman and drummer Matt Burton. Influenced by some of their favorite hard rock bands Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Machine Head, Mastodon, Tool and Karnivool, they play an arresting and innovative style of metal rock, featuring intelligent lyrics penned by Vriend and delivered with unconventional melodies, wicked riffs, driving bass lines and pummeling drums.
They released an impressive debut album Idle Hands in 2017, and this past March, dropped their sophomore album The Hunting Ground, which I’m reviewing today. As the album’s title suggests, the songs generally speak to the darker, feral nature inherent in each of us to some degree. Similar to their first album, The Hunting Ground opens with an intriguing instrumental track “Umm al-Maa”. Wondering what it might mean, I did a Google search and found it translates to “mother of water” in Berber Arabic, and is also the name of one of several lake oases in the Idehan Ubari Sand Sea located in the Sahara Desert of southwestern Libya. The music on this brief track consists of strummed guitar, delicate piano keys and what I’m guessing to be a cello, accompanied by sounds of wind and water that beautifully convey the sense of mystery and wonder of a remote oasis. The dark irony is that the water in these oases is too salty to drink. John commented “Imagine being lost in the desert and finding that oasis, and then drinking the salty water would be your demise.”
They next launch into “Fifty Four”, serving up chugging riffs of gnarly guitars over a foundation of buzzing bass and hammering drumbeats, and punctuated by flourishes of distortion. Vriend’s commanding vocals express a raw urgency as he sings about feelings of hopelessness and ennui: “Substituting for a lack of stimulation. Seeking out the offspring of my mind. Beneath consciousness there’s desperation that fits nicely into my design.” The title track “The Hunting Ground” at first sounds almost like a continuation of “Fifty Four”, with a similar melody and chord progression, but the killer guitar solos in the bridge and outro turn it into an especially satisfying track. Vriend passionately sings the lyrics that seem to speak to the age-old notion of survival of the fittest – ‘kill or be killed”: “Hear that wild call. Smoke them out. Rise or fall. Become what you fear.”
Here’s a great video of the guys performing the song live.
One of the highlights of the album for me is the gorgeous “We Are Wrong”. I usually like when metal and hard rock bands show their softer side with a slow ballad, and Shadow of Everest are no exception here. I love the haunting melody, outstanding guitar work, and especially the sublime vocal harmonies of Vriend and guest singer Erin Crosby. Guest musician Lex Coulstring played keyboards on this lovely track. The message expressed in the lyrics seem to be that “ignorance is bliss”: “And the moments became too many. Time keeps passing on. One day we understand. The next day we are wrong.”
“Castle in the Sky” is hard-driving metal rock at its finest, with rock’n’roll overtones and more of the raging guitars this band so nicely delivers. This song seems to be about needing to be rescued from a life of degradation and despair: “Couldn’t see the splendor from the underground. There was no will to satisfy. Pull me out of the loss and the ruin. Those broken pieces will build our castle in the sky.” The aptly-named “Dark Spiral” dives deeper into progressive metal, with interesting melodic transitions and greater use of dissonance in the song structure, not to mention fearsome riffs and Cowell’s crushing bass. Vriend’s impassioned vocals are almost chilling as he wails “How does it feel to be spinning on a tangible wave of magnificence? As an ignorant drone, completely unaware and obsessed with your own insignificance.”
The guys unleash their sonic fury on “Ravenman”, the most metal-esque (is that a word?) track on the album and another one of its highlights. It’s a monumental six minute, 49-second-long tour de force of rampaging riffs, buzzsaw bass and Burton’s speaker-blowing drums. The hardcore backing vocals are sung by Lex Coulstring. Thought I’m not certain, my take is that ‘Ravenman’ represents the devil, or at least the inherent evil that each of us is capable of: “I know the nightmares, what they mean. What you should fear, the shadows in your head, the violence in your hand. Be not a patron to the failures of the damned.” It’s a fantastic song.
They close things out with “The River”, another epic track that seems to be about the end of the world: “The earth is parting and the vultures fly. Statues crumble while the pharaohs die. What glory lies beyond the river’s flow? We’re unaware how far this shadow goes.” As always, Vriend and Welsman deliver scorching riffs while Cowell and Burton confidently maintain the aggressive rhythm section. It’s a strong finish to a solid album of heavy hitters. The guys are all highly accomplished musicians who now have two outstanding albums on their impressive resume. I trust we’ll be hearing more great music from them in the future.