There’s no way to talk about Shields at this point without bringing up the passing of guitarist George Christie who took his own life in January. Obviously it was a crushing blow to the band, but for a scene as a whole, it’s an equally tragic loss for a musician with so much to offer. And that’s where Shields have been for a fair bit now, just on the fringes of breaking into something truly exemplary in a tech-metalcore scene that frequently feels as though it’s been drained of inspiration. Now more than ever, all eyes are fixated on Life In Exile to see what Shields can really produce on a debut full-length, whether they can beat the odds to establish themselves as a genuine force.
And it’s worth noting that, even though this album represents Christie’s final contributions with the band, Life In Exile rings eerily prophetic in places about the tragedy that would come to befall Shields as a unit. The vicious self-flagellation of Upside Down bears some extra weight and dark pathos, as do the seething cries of hopelessness on It’s Killing Me, and rounding off with Aokigahara (itself named after Japan’s infamous “suicide forest”), Life In Exile feels all the more harrowing with each layer that’s peeled away. The intensity of the delivery really adds to this too, particularly the poison-barbed growls of Joe Edwards that carry a great deal more malleability than any faceless, one-note screamer could offer.
This power and intensity feels like Shields’ greatest asset on Life In Exile, pushing songs like Black Dog and Mother into some far darker, occasionally more uncomfortable territory, particularly in the case of the latter with the vocal trade-offs between Edwards and Sam Kubrick’s more unhinged offerings. It’s definitely good that that’s there because, on an instrumental level, Shields aren’t really pushing to the same degree. It’s definitely still good, with the pummeling crunch of a track like White Embers using its clinically sharp production to great effect, but it’s not exactly the groundbreaking deviation from tech-metal normality that Shields have previously been tipped for. And that’s slightly disappointing, particularly when the band feel as though they’re surging ahead in almost every other aspect, but feeling just short of that instrumentally, and that does weight Life In Exile down from being truly excellent.
That said, the tech-metalcore pack is still lagging behind even it this isn’t quite the stellar debut it could’ve been, with Shields having crafted a mighty outlet for the dark clouds that surround them. On intent alone, Life In Exile shines bright in a scene that’s regularly bankrupt of ideas, and feels all the more stark in the context of its surrounding events. Even if it’s not perfect, this is well worth investing time into.
For fans of: Architects, Napoleon, Our Hollow Our Home
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Life In Exile’ by Shields is released on 20th April on Longbranch Records.