Fight Fire With Fire is an ongoing series on our site where we pit two classic genre albums against each other to definitively figure out which one is better. “But they’re both great!” you’ll say. Yes, these albums are the best of the best. But one is always better. Plus, we love these sorts of exercises, and also love watching you battle each other to the death in the comments, so how could this possibly end poorly?
Context matters. Here in 2022, no one really wants to hear a metallic hardcore band with Slayer influences lay down a good-cop-bad-cop thrasher (well, at least I know I don’t). In 2000 and 2001, however, I was eating that shit up, because it was fresh, it was exciting, and it sounded good.
And few sounded better than Shadows Fall and God Forbid. Along with Lamb of God, these guys were at the top of the NWOAHM heap, putting out records that sounded incredibly vital, taking metal to new places while definitely nodding to the past.
But then, you know, shit happened. The sound became diluted, overproduced, and devoid of feeling; many of the bands that mattered just kinda faded away, despite their best efforts. Really, it was one of the most anticlimactic endings ever to a once-interesting metal subgenre.
But we don’t forget. And today we’re looking back at two of the best bands of the era, and two of the best albums of the era, to see which one stands the test of time in our NWOAHM Fight Fire With Fire showdown.
Bring on the good cops; bring on the bad cops. Today you’re all welcome.
Shadows Fall – Of One Blood
Shadows Fall’s Somber Eyes to the Sky debut dropped in 1997, but it wasn’t until 2000’s Of One Blood, where they got new vocalist powerhouse Brian Fair and hopped over to Century Media, when things really got going for the band.
Man, once past irrelevant intro “Pain Glass Vision,” things get serious fast with the massive “Crushing Belial,” the opening riffs Slayeriffic, the verse NWOAHM perfection, knocking on Lamb of God’s door big time, and the good-cop chorus hits all the right feels. And this is really good songwriting craft, too, the band just raging until all their hearts stop, and the fact that during the quiet breakdown part shit sounds a bit, well, imperfect is awesome, man. No way should a bunch of scraggly longhairs suddenly sound like Frank Sinatra, and it’s those warts that actually really make me even more endeared to this as the years go on.
I love the title track so much, the huge and moving chorus, the Hammett/Hetfield part before the solo, the excellent vocal performance, the way the whole thing steamrolls along and brings you with it. This song is peak NWOAHM.
“The First Noble Truth” shows that the band is locked in and has their sound down to a fine point, although one could argue that point got even finer next album out. But songs like this, which bring with them absolutely nothing to complain about, prove how on fire the band was at this time.
“Fleshold” brings a groove that is borderline too much, but, especially when this record dropped, was most certainly not too much, it was in fact just right, as is the vocal interplay on this great tune.
“Root Bound Apollo” is the 5:27 mid-album epic, and it makes me think of early-era Cave In but given a spit-shine and an ambition for the arenas, and it works. Shadows Fall actually managed to handle acoustic parts and quiet moments quite well, and this one proves it, navigating through a few different shades and hues with ease.
“Revel In My Loss,” well, as we hit song seven, I’m reminded of the late-album fatigue this one always gave me, this song solid, sure, but lacking the excitement that the first half of the album had. This is an inherent problem with NWOAHM, even the best Lamb of God records always—every time—hitting a point where I wish they ended a couple of songs earlier. This song has a killer solo-to-the-very-last-second part, like “Bark at the Moon,” and I can always get behind that, though.
“Montauk” doesn’t offer as many new ideas as I need it to at this point in the album, but I do really like its heavier, slower parts; “To Ashes” flirts with some blastbeats nicely, giving a bit of a late-album wakeup that I want, and the vocal hooks are, of course, near perfection. The almost-kinda-but-not-shitty folk-metal part is awesome, too.
“Serenity” brings things to an energetic close much in the same way Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction comes to a close: raging, thrashing, straight-up, with a hint of melancholy melodies. And, actually, this song totally saves the day, the slight hump in the middle of the album decimated by that totally crushing main riff.
I loved this album when it came out, and I fully bought into this being the future of metal, or at least a future of metal. Now here I am in the future and this is absolutely not what I want metal to be, but here’s the thing: that’s not Shadows Fall’s fault. Along with a handful of other bands doing this sound, they absolutely killed it, they brought a new life and energy to metal at the time, and I’ll always love them for it. But the hundreds of bands that followed that took this sound and tidied it up, processed it beyond emotion, took away all the rough edges and all the heart and soul, those bands are the reason I don’t really want to hear this stuff anymore. It’s not Shadows Fall’s fault.
And it’s not God Forbid’s fault, either.
God Forbid – Determination
Similar to Shadows Fall, God Forbid’s Reject the Sickness debut came out in 2000, but they stepped things up a huge notch for album number two when they switched over to Century Media for 2001’s breakthrough Determination. Right away, the production sound is immediately more polished than Shadows Fall’s on Of One Blood, but not too polished, which was one of the big mistakes this genre ended up sinking into. I like Shadows Fall’s rough-around-the-edges sound, but Determination sounds more massive, no denying it.
“Dawn of the Millenia” is actually a cool little intro, mainly because it’s actually a song, a cool fade-in Meshuggah-esque instrumental, and it works.
It leads into the raging “Nothing,” which goes for the throat in a much more hostile fashion than anything off of Of One Blood, which is something I never really noticed when these records were new. But, wow, this one has something to prove, God Forbid going through all sorts of thrash, hardcore, and groove sounds here, not really good-cop-bad-cop as much as it just all over the place, in a good way. The climax could kill, and the breakdown is Dillinger-style chaos. I haven’t revisited this record in a while, and I’m genuinely shocked at much of this.
The song leads right into “Broken Promise” without missing a beat, and it’s four-on-the-floor thrash with some melodies, taking Shadows Fall’s promise of Slayerized hardcore and crashing all the levels through the red. The groove part that comes in is like Hatebreed gone actual metal: it’s extremely powerful, and those vocals are decimating.
I always loved “Divide My Destiny”’s melodies and incredible, Himsa-esque vocal performance. This song takes all that is great about this era of God Forbid and distills it into an incredible 5:19. The melodies, the riffs, the vocals… I’m actually a bit stunned here today that we aren’t talking about this band more regularly. This is very powerful stuff, the band showing an excellent grasp of songwriting as the song comes to a climax that gives me goosebumps every single time, even two decades later. Wow.
“Network” has some incredible melodies and soloing near its end, but much of the song threatens to introduce the mid-album ennui that Shadows Fall’s album also brought with it, raging as this song is; “Wicked” most certainly brings the mid-album fatigue, the song a heavy-enough groover but one without much personality.
“Determination, Pt. 1” starts off slow and thoughtful before the mid-tempo crunch kicks in, and the double bass is pounding, and the Slayer riffs are coming, and, yup, it’s all still clicking. “Determination, Pt. 2” shows off some more shades and hues, and the band navigate it all with finesse, the song giving some very cool breathing room in an album that needs it around this point.
“Go Your Own Way” (no, not that one) is awesome, stylish leads, emotive grooves, the band sort of settling into a late-album been-there-done-that feel, much like Shadows Fall did, but there’s nothing wrong with this song, and it explodes pretty good at the end.
“God’s Last Gift,” here’s a deep cut worth checking out, the riffs just solid throughout this 4:30 instrumental, the band laying down what is sort of the metalcore version of a classic Metallica instrumental track. Really good stuff, the ambition and confidence on this one really quite stunning.
Closer “Dead Words on Deaf Ears” is a sturdy 6:04 to end things off, not quite the massive epic ending I want, but a killer nonetheless, and another great cut on an album full of them. It brings the record to a pretty crushing close, and as it winds down, it’s pretty clear that something important just happened.
These are both great records, both to be remembered as some of the best examples of the sound ever. They also both suffer a bit from mid-album fatigue, but one manages to edge its way out of that fatigue a bit better, one manages to destroy just a bit harder, and manages to even today, more than two decades and a complete lack of interest in the genre at hand later, totally kick my ass. Congrats, God Forbid: your determination was obvious, and it still is, and today you are the NWOAHM champions, for your sheer intensity, for a heaviness that has aged very well, for the broken-glass riffs that shine with all the best parts of NWOAHM’s broken promise.