Written by: The Administrator
A good symphonic metal album appeals, by default, to fans of symphonic metal, but often has a hard time reaching beyond a fandom predisposed to enjoy the grandiose flair and bombast inherent to genre convention. Luckily, the demographic of people who can kick back and enjoy the likes of Epica or Nightwish is a sizable contingent...albeit not particularly well represented here at the Sleeping Village, both in terms of scriberly inhabitants and our noble readership. In any case, if you drink deep of epic and/or symphonic waters, you'll likely find something worth celebrating in Unfinished.
At risk of showing my cards too early, I'm of the mind that the long-awaited debut from Chicago's Shield of Wings is an impressive feat indeed. Moreover, it serves as a very strong foot forward for a band with clear potential to rope in a sizable fanbase. Let's dive in.
Shield of Wings directly cites their connection to a certain cinematic flair--promo material mentions heavyweights such as Hans Zimmer and Howard Shore. This inclination to write music that feels soundtrack-worthy in scope is a bit of a differentiator. While contemporaries will lean into the decidedly epic, Shield of Wings' composition and use of orchestration feels notably expansive. They stray far from the folksy camp of, say, Leaves Eyes, delivering instead a genuine sense of drama that is maintained across the breadth. In other words, Unfinished is the perfect soundtrack to a fantastical saga of sorts. I don't wish to impart, however, that this album is mere background music. Indeed, when Shield of Wings do pull out the stops, diving into chuggier waters or slinging powerful choruses, the impact is fairly intense. Some tracks are overtly impactful in a fashion that almost recall Powerwolf's penchant for engaging hooks, while other songs lean far into emotive balladry. While toeing the theatrical line, they never cross over into full-blown costumery or melodrama; despite high-flying moments, everything does feel remarkably grounded. Aliyah Daye's excellent harsh vocals do a lot of heavy lifting in this regard, as does Patrick Eulitz's work in the percussion department, which is stellar throughout as it reliably reinforces the symphonic elements.
From a technical standpoint, this crew is firing on all cylinders. The dual vocal approach lends the whole affair a full and vibrant feel, affording each track an extensive sense of personality that serves to highlight the instrumentation. The keys and orchestral embellishments throughout never feel superfluous, and while there is undeniably a lot going on, no element ever feels like it exists solely to hog the limelight. This quintet obviously knows how to work together as a unit. Everyone executes with confidence and power. There are simply no weak elements.
I've found it quite difficult to pull out highlights, as every damn track herein has demanded substantial attention from yours truly. If you're looking to sample the overt ballad-oriented fare, try "Come Home" on for size. Meanwhile, "Native Colossus" illustrates glimmers of power metal earworminess, "Mind of Myth" unchains the aggression, and the gorgeous "Sunflower Shower" serves as a solid encapsulation of the many distinct elements at play. As with many albums in the symphonic sphere, my only nit-picky gripe with Unfinished isn't with the music or songs themselves, but rather the sheer amount on display. At 58 minutes long, this album could have used a trim, particularly in the back half, where individual tracks start to lose their impact across a single listening session. Less is more when it comes to genres that traditionally ooze excess, and Shield of Wings have delivered a full platter. There's certainly nothing here worth cutting, but relegating a couple of tracks to a bonus edition or a separate EP would have streamlined the whole affair in my book. That said, I am an admitted stickler when it comes to lean 'n' mean albums, so if you enjoy longer-form epics, I doubt this will impact your opinion on the project as a whole. The same applies if you lean into the more deliberately cinematic side of the project's appeal.
In sum? I mean, goddamn. Unfinished is a very good debut. Hell, this would be a very good album if it came from an act with a dozen albums under their collective belt. I've been spinning this behemoth for the better part of three weeks, and I still find it invigorating, enthralling, and, perhaps most importantly, highly listenable. If Shield of Wings drop another album of this caliber in the next few years, I'll frankly be pretty surprised if they don't find themselves moving towards the higher echelons of symphonic metal. They practically demand an audience.
Shield of Wings - Unfinished was released Feb. 11th, 2022 via Elderpath Records. Find it here!
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that wakes us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.