Lunar Shadow’s second full-length album The Smokeless Fires sees the German quintet broadening their already wide pool of influences. A bright blending of classic metal, folk, and atmospheric black metal still serves as a core foundation much as it had on 2017’s Far from Light, but these elements are much more thoroughly integrated than before. The band also throws a few new tricks into the mix as softer segments are driven by piano more often than the established acoustic runs and the post-punk flavor on “Roses” makes for the most drastic departure yet.
But while the lead singer switch was a notable cause for concern, The Smokeless Fires is all about the guitar playing. There’s a great deal of dexterity on display as the rhythms run between chugging gallops and hazy tremolos while the leads are full of squealing solos and those beloved twin harmonies. The acoustic segments aren’t as prominent as before, but they still find moments to chime in with wistful melodies. The overall sound is unique and tricky to pinpoint at times, but the various components are highlighted just enough things from sounding too nondescript.
It does feel like the guitar prowess comes at the other musicians’ expense at times. The vocals will likely remain a point of contention for some listeners; the more traditionally inclined wails may sit better with some than their previous singer’s more Beatlesque delivery, but they could stand to have more power behind them. The performance isn’t bad, but it isn’t quite as charming as the debut’s quirkiness. Fortunately, the drums are even more dexterous than before, and the piano is consistently well played.
All this considered, the songwriting is as dense as ever though manageable thanks to seven tracks totaling a forty-five-minute runtime. Most of the tracks are labyrinthine metal numbers that cycle through different tempos and moods with an array of melodies and interludes for cohesion. “Red Nails (For the Pillar of Death)” is the best of the lot thanks to its more ominous tone and extreme drumming, but I can appreciate the more straightforward power metal of “Laurelindorenan.” The outliers are also enjoyable as “Roses” offers that pristine tone and an almost danceable tempo without going into full-on Idle Hands territory while “Pretend” is a piano-driven equivalent to the acoustic balladry of before.
Overall, Lunar Shadow’s dynamic could use a little finetuning, but their second full-length album makes for a great step forward. Far from Light slightly edges out The Smokeless Fires in overall quality, but the sound here is much more distinct. Your overall feelings toward the album may depend on whether you’re a more guitar or vocal-oriented listener, but there’s no denying the skilled musicianship and smooth stylistic blending on display. This could very well end up being a grower, but I think Lunar Shadow’s best may still be yet to come.
“Red Nails (For the Pillar of Death)”