It’s a great week to be Irish. We have shown that we have the ability to compete with the best of the best. We have kicked ass, and made out voices heard internationally. We have been given an icon to gather around after a few tough years in which we were little more than an object of pity and centerpiece in cautionary tales about hubris. The Celtic tiger may be dead, but our spirit didn’t die. That’s right, Limerick instrumental metallers Shardborne have unleashed their wickedly inventive album Living Bridges upon the world.
Oh, and the Conor McGregor thing was pretty cool too I guess.
In general it has been an incredible year for Irish music, with the release of Living Bridges marking the third Irish metal album released since January which has a strong chance of ending up in my end of year top ten. Murdock’s Dead Lung contained mathcore twisted enough to cause nosebleeds and No Spill Blood’s Heavy Electricity gave me cramps in my foot-tapping muscles with the power of its groove. And now Shardborne have carved themselves out a piece of my neural real estate with their dazzlingly intricate progressive metal opus. It is an album where the only thing that can be expected is the unexpected. Riffs are bent around bizarre time signatures, the variations on themes are constant and song structures sit on the verge of freeform writing. The craziness and creativity may leave you counting beats to keep up, but the album is also capable of great beauty. The melodies are absolutely gorgeous (check out the opening of fifth track Mind The Gap) and besides the more straightforward (I use the word very loosely) metal riffs there are lush chord arrangements that give the album a sense of vertical depth. The musicianship on display here is humbling, and the level of detail gives the lots of replay value, beyond its immediate appeal as a rocking prog album.
I also have to give special mention to the production on the album. It is a strange experience for me, knowing after the first ten seconds of an album that I was probably going to enjoy the whole thing, but the quality of the mix was clear even in that short time, and only impressed me more as the music progressed. Living Bridges is a busy album, with complicated, angular parts overlapping each other constantly. The production takes what could dissolve into unlistenable mush if not handled carefully and makes it sing. Every part is clear, the harmonies sound through perfectly (especially considering the amount of distortion) and when it’s time for a heavy riff, you may lose teeth. It’s this sound that lets both the beauty and the heavy edge of the album shine through as they work their magic.
Shardborne have written something special here, something to stimulate your love for both metal and gentle progressive soundscapes. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year so far. Much of the country is feeling a swelling pride in their homeland because of what Conor McGregor did in the ring Saturday, and while I appreciate the dedication and grit he demonstrated as much as anyone, nothing this year has made me feel more proud to be Irish than how much we have punched above our weight musically. The playthrough video of opening track Not That, Axis is embedded below, and you can find the full album on Shardborne’s Bandcamp.