Shrapnel – In Gravity


Norwich unit, Shrapnel, are one of England’s finest thrash metal bands. Formed in 2009, they waited until they landed a deal with Candlelight Records before releasing their 2014 debut. Scream Blast Repeat praised their 2020 effort, Palace for the Insane, noting that ‘the thirteen cuts here could all be contenders for singles, not that any of them would enter the mainstream charts due to their utter savagery.’ Since then, they’ve entered a period of uncertainty. The bassist and vocalist for the last record, Aarran Tucker, left in 2022, and they now return with yet another frontman – this time, settling on Daniel Moran from Liverpool thrashers, Reaper. Indeed, the question now is whether we can still call them a thrash band?

The album’s title-track starts like a Hollywood blockbuster from 2006, when esoteric Middle Eastern harmonies were all the rage. Then it goes hard on the melodic rock phrasing like an easycore band, which might shock some of the old fanbase expecting a neck-snapping assault. Here, Moran sings like a heavy metal tenor from the 1980s with the flair and clarity of Ronnie James Dio. It takes time for the band to stamp a thrash metal identity on this song, but that’s because the chorus is so catchy and glorious in its delivery. Nathan Sadd and Chris Martin wait until 3:45 to swing their heads and crunch the strings on their guitars. The new vocal style is welcome after you’ve heard the chorus for a second time, but it’s a departure from the last record.

‘Amber Screams’ is a moodier and more menacing metal affair built around low-tuned guitar grooves that linger like misaligned shadows. Ambitious dual harmony vocal arrangements in the first verse compete with mid-range riffing. This could be Tony Martin (ex-Black Sabbath) in the chorus, yet the main reference points are haunting and anchored in the 1990s. You wouldn’t label this thrash metal on the evidence of their first two cuts. Moran drags his voice through the parameters of a melody in the chorus, even flirting with the idea of sabotaging it. The main riff sails close to the King’s X groove in ‘What is This?’ from their legendary 1987 debut album.

It would be easy to write another thrash album to please the acolytes in battle jackets. Shrapnel deserve credit for stepping out of their comfort zone on In Gravity, although the results are sometimes confusing. ‘Guardian’ see them embrace death metal in their riffing with power metal vocals. For good or bad, Moran’s impressive vocal range gives them access to another dimension that eluded them in the past. This song is like Death in the hands of Iced Earth. By contrast, ‘Breaker’ and ‘Dark Age’ are quicker to leave their mark. Listen how the former combines Testament with a chorus befitting of Tesseract. You wouldn’t believe this is the same band that produced 2020’s Palace for the Insane on the latter, but the Gojira riff in the middle eight is most welcome. It can’t decide if it wants to be Annihilator or Fates Warning, yet that’s what makes it exciting.

In Gravity takes three listens to understand it. Once you get through these, you can enjoy it for what it is – an anthemic heavy metal album. The chorus singalongs in ‘Judgement’ are glorious if not a little bombastic. ‘Follow the Cold’ coats itself in a firm thrash metal straitjacket with the bonus of thoughtful vocal arrangements that oscillate between tenor splendour and finger-squirming rage. Are you ready to bang your head to the beat and raise your first in the air? ‘So Below’ delivers prime Anthrax but with the drama of Artillery and the epic melody of a power metal chorus.

This record is an ambitious effort, and nothing signifies the change in songwriting better than closing track, ‘Absolution’, with its memorable phrasing of guitar and vocals in the opening verses as Moran whispers his words through ambitious peaks. Observe the tasteful shredding through the scales in the lead guitar – gold and green colours swirl in your mind like paint strokes. Moran is confident enough to ascend through the octaves for repeat renditions of the chorus without murdering the life out of them. How does he hit those high notes with such aggression? The ending of this could pass for a high-charged Periphery song. Did they spend the last three years listening to Nevermore?

Shrapnel called their album In Gravity, and we feared that it would be in flux, but this is an enjoyable piece of heavy metal theatre on the right side of the risk matrix.


Verdict


Release Date: 31/05/2024

Record Label: Candlelight Records

Standout tracks: Amber Screams, Breaker, Dark Age

Suggested Further Listening: Heathen – Empire of the Blind (2020), Artillery – X (2021), Kreator – Hate Über Alles (2022)