Shadows & Mirrors – Aria – Album Review
Ahhh yeah, some of that good ol’ reliable darkwave industrial-electro music – I’ve always got time for this kind of stuff. Ever since ordering Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine on cassette back in the day – the dynamics of this genre’s style have always pulled me in…there are so many places and dimensions that this kind of sound can morph into…a lot of freedom and wildly unexplored terrain in dark electro still to this day. Over eight new complex & catchy cuts – Shadows & Mirrors attempt to chart the course into some of the vast-unknown of music and pack a serious edge to the scale & size of the sound that looms menacingly and hauntingly in your mind.
If I had to hazard a guess…I’d be willing to bet that the mastermind behind the music of Shadows & Mirrors – Brian Diamond – is probably either the same age as myself or only a couple of years apart. Looking at the list of artists/bands that have influenced the music he makes…we’ve certainly grown up listening to much of the same stuff – so truly, even before pushing play I was looking forward to what might come out of Aria. Chances are, you can usually bet when you see a list as diverse and lengthy as this one…and you feel like you line up with about 90% of it or more…I mean, it just stands to reason that I personally stand a great chance of liking a record in that situation.
Bands and artists I expected to find like Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson and David Bowie were on there…some slick additional songwriters like Paul Simon and Elliott Smith – you know…REAL songwriters…and another indication that Diamond draws from a creditable catalog of influence for the music he makes. She Wants Revenge made the list as well…definitely a band I’d have made a comparison to with what I hear in Shadows & Mirrors – you can hear that influence.
And really…the rest of the list checks out pretty good…with the exception of having both Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana on the same list, it all makes sense. My main man Kurt would be rolling in his grave.
Anyhow…wouldn’t it just be great to talk about influences all day long? I’d love to…but I don’t suppose this is really the time to do it. Thumbs-up to what I see out there inspiring the sound and ideas of Shadows & Mirrors – nuff said – now let’s move on to the actual music on the brand-new record Aria.
There’s lots I like about what I hear in the opening track “The Stranger” and its vicious pulse & grind. It really does take me back to that first time I heard Pretty Hate Machine…there’s a similar attitude and lo-fi edge to the beginning stages of this record that has that familiar warm-glow in the murk of the music. I looked for credits other than just Brian Diamond’s own…but as far as I can tell, this is a one-man project. Listening to it that way – you’ll hear exemplary skill on the composition, assembly, writing and structure – but also in the performance of what I’d assume would be him on guitars, keyboards, programming and vocals. I don’t know this stuff for a fact – it’s just my guess…but I don’t think it can be argued that what you’ll hear is an impressive accomplishment for one dude. It’s mastered by a different dude…Barry Grint…but at that point, he’s the cherry on top of an already perfectly designed sundae. The material is solid – “The Stranger” holds-up well and pulls us in through nearly six-minutes; the change-up/breakdown in the first-third of the track or so cues up an extraordinary inclusion of spoken-word and creativity towards the end. I like the sound of the music…and I think that’s where Diamond’s got his greatest hold on me so far in the opening…the vocals fit, but much like Reznor’s early work there are still a few moments where you can hear that he’s still building up the strength of this final piece to his puzzle. Also much like Reznor – I have incredible faith that Diamond will get to where he wants to be with it as well…he’ll settle into his sound and get that added confidence to go with it.
But make sure to give the man some credit. A lot of people don’t realize how tough it is to sing songs like you’d find in She Wants Revenge, The National, The Editors, Nine Inch Nails…these kind of bands demand certain tones to the vocals that are down in the depths and tough to consistently reach for and pull out the exact tones required. Shadows & Mirrors continues with “I Don’t Mind” – which definitely reminded me of She Wants Revenge and their update on the Depeche Mode sound, but noticeably I think Diamond already sounds a little more into this track’s beat and vibe. He puts in a solid performance against the more lively, bouncy rhythm…and MAN…those guitar sounds right as this track hits the two-minute mark and the music to follow are fucking EXQUISITE. Diamond writes longer, more progressive songs overall…and some of the twists and turns you’ll find on “I Don’t Mind” make for easy choices as early highlights in the ideas you’ll find on this record. The hypnotic rhythm of the arpeggio-synth and flow to the vocals make for a standout combination on “I Don’t Mind.”
“Empty” was a tougher one for me to love. On the brighter-side…probably some of my favorite music on the entire album…this track is incredible to listen to on a musical-front and the samples added in are 100% wicked. The bone-crunching distortion on the guitars is SICK SICK SICK…it’s as p-h-a-t kinda phat as it gets…sounds awesome. Vocals were where I struggled a bit on this one…I felt like Diamond had great moments where at his best in the verse he’d remind me of someone like Layne Staley…but in the chorus…kind of flips towards more of a Sully from Godsmack sound…
…and I’m just not certain even Sully from Godsmack wants to sound like Sully from Godsmack – know what I mean? So tonally…Diamond walks a bit of a fine-line for me on this one. The music of “Empty” and its overall composition saved it for me more than anything else.
He does really well on more rhythmic-pieces like “Confession” in my opinion, which is a cut that really gets into that darkwave-electro sound. Brian also does a solid job of contrasting sounds and ideas with a more rhythmic pulse to the synth fighting the pure-emotion and threshold of the guitars he adds in. “Confession” has extraordinary examples of this as it exits the chorus into what becomes rival-entertainment with exploratory instrumental sections of this track that seriously hit home. Great texture to his music overall on Aria, but admittedly you really feel like you can reach out and touch it through the strong connection to “Confession.”
It would seem to me…that a track like “In The Dark” absolutely confirms what I’ve been saying about Diamond’s vocals and how he’d settle-in and really find that comfortable place – and this is it. The vocal-flow and its melody steal the show on the opening verse of “In The Dark” before one of the best breakdowns on the entire album occurs – and this is all within the first two-minutes of a seven-plus minute adventure! The synth and guitars of this track are fucking incredible…and two-and-a-half minutes in, I’m absolutely loving life – “In The Dark” has a wicked beat and scattered sections of defined ideas that are dynamically-stunning. Diamond’s created a no-lose situation on “In The Dark” and it seems that no matter which way he takes the direction of this idea, he pulls firmly into winning territory and grinds out an innovative idea until he’s cut it to the very core. “In The Dark” is one of the ‘darker’ songs on the record – but you can also really hear Diamond cut himself completely loose here. Confidence in music and recording can be a seriously intoxicating thing to listen to – and “In The Dark” is chockfull of it…the presence of the music and Diamond’s own grip on the entire energy and sound increases in strength dramatically around the middle of Aria – awesome to listen to it evolve.
So…again…assuming that this IS a one-man project…my only advice to Diamond would be to remind him that he’s the only one out there he has to answer to…and to not rush himself too much. I say this because he’s more than capable of hitting the vocals with the exact tones he needs…but at times, like on “The Sedative Of Ceremony” those signs of pushing the limits are there. I’d guess it’s one of two things – either it’s the newest song he’d written on the record, or he slightly rushed that performance on the vocals. I’d be willing to bet he’s already singing along to this or performing it live and noticing he’s hitting those parts exactly as he’d wanted to all along, just from knowing the material better and being more confident in the performing of it. I also say all of this…cause dammit – “The Sedative Of Ceremony” is a seriously wicked idea overall…the music is once again at the height of its depth in sound and the writing puts out an entire set of solid ideas. Diamond’s completely on the right path here…I’ve just already heard him give more to the vocals on some of the previous tracks, and I want that more from him here. You can say that’s on me if you like…I’m greedy like that.
The wild & warped ideas and sound of “No Fever” are awesome to listen to – once again Diamond’s created an innovative and creative landscape you can really feel stick to you. Great pacing and depth to the rhythm of this tune…kind of like the darkwave-equivalent to a Primus tune here in many ways. Another gigantic epic at nearly eight-minutes long – he’s once again worked in absolutely stunning and extraordinary parts into his overall-giant ideas and ambitions – LISTEN to right around the three-minute mark and forward to hear a whole-new side of this project that will blow your mind!
Because let’s just say it straight-up…eventually this goes on to become a duet of sorts as it approaches the fourth-minute in a collaboration of sound that absolutely, 100% works. The additional female vocals sound extraordinary and are such a clever thing to have added in during the late-stages of the record – I totally didn’t see that coming. Not only was it a genuine surprise – the resulting sound between them sounded like musical-harmony and perfection in writing, delivery and performance. “No Fever” is easily a serious stand-out track for me…I think that the music is noteworthy and the vocals absolutely bring it to this track. It leans a little more towards a more accessible and crossover sound in many ways as well…depending on the attention-spans out there of course. At nearly eight-minutes long, it does take some building and patience to get to some of the extraordinary payoffs in the more accessible-nature of the writing…but I found “No Fever” wickedly creative to listen to the entire time personally – the duet that eventually pops into the song twice was a completely added bonus to a set of extraordinary ideas I was already intensely enjoying.
On that note though…if I was Diamond…I’d certainly be welcoming this kind of collaboration – it really brought out the best in him as well – loved the vocals in “No Fever.”
If the record had ended there…I think it would have been right about where I would have wanted it. I think the vocal-flow of “100 Years” is a little too straightforward…but coming after “No Fever” would also be a really tough act to follow. I like that the menace to the music and vibrant beat comes ripping out quickly once again…the switch into the guitar-hooks worked extremely well…but yeah…something about “100 Years” felt like it ended the record with a bit less impact than perhaps “No Fever” would have. I’ll say this however…”100 Years” has another extraordinary breakdown and rebuild heading into the third-minute that’s certainly worth listening to…and once again, musically, I think Shadows & Mirrors have been right on the money every time. Bringing in a theramin sound to liven-up the middle section of “100 Years” – Diamond continues to pump out innovative and creative ideas in his music right to the final seconds of this cut. After a final-rip through its hook & chorus, he does the song and the album true-justice by really raising-up the last moments of “100 Years” to allow it to really make the burning impact it deserved.
Definitely a ton of great ideas and moments along the way throughout Aria. I can only imagine the Shadows & Mirrors project getting stronger & stronger with each and every stride – this is just the kind of artist that truly gets better and better with exploration & experience. Huge ideas and ambition combine in all kinds of incredible ways throughout this record and I’m 100% positive each time Shadows & Mirrors pop-up that seriously charismatic and wild imagination will always be an inspiring part of the music we’ll hear.
Find out more about Shadows & Mirrors from the official links below!
Join the thousands of bands & artists reviewed at sleepingbagstudios by clicking here!