Lillian Axe

Deep Red Shadows

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Heavy metal bands don't fly any farther under the pop culture conscience radar than enduring New Orleans outfit Lillian Axe -- certainly not since their original disintegration in 1995, by which time they'd released four underrated albums. But ever since its unexpected 2007 rebirth, the group led by resilient guitarist Steve Blaze has nevertheless maintained a very busy recording schedule, quickly knocking out another three albums for various independent labels, culminating in 2010's eye-opening Deep Red Shadows. Not only is the album's first half steeped in an unimpeachable ‘80s metal pedigree, devoid of the usual subgenre tainting suffered by most bands (thrash, doom, death, black metal, you name it), but it's also defined by a certain quality not often associated with heavy metal bands of their generation: class! That's right, although they are anything but rule-breaking, stunningly well-executed offerings like "47 Ways to Die," "The Quenching of Human Life," and the mini-epic "Under the Same Moon" (a prime example of accessible prog metal, orchestral bits and all) boast impeccable arrangements, finely balanced hard/soft dynamics, and sparkling-clean production befitting a top-notch 1980s recording, minus the fluff (punched in snares, excessive synths, etc.). Yet, the real surprise is saved for Deep Red Shadows' second half, which is comprised entirely of acoustic guitar-led ballads, and remarkably beautiful and tasteful ones at that, with top marks going to heart-rending fare like "Nobody Knows," "Sad Day on Planet Earth," and the vaguely "Bron-Yr-Aur"-esque title track. Once again: class. Not least because Blaze's handpicked interpreter for these songs, former Metal Church vocalist Ronny Munroe, brings with him a histrionics-free approach that breathes as much fresh air as the music under its wings. Obviously, not all metal fans will look so kindly upon such a significant stylistic curve ball, but for listeners who prize imagination above safe expectations, Deep Red Shadows will feel like nothing short of a creative triumph for Lillian Axe's unheralded career revival.

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