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Track By Tracks: SCIMITAR - Shadows Of Man (2019)

1. State of Nature:

The album begins in the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes's 'state of nature,' a primeval epoch of humanity before the existence of civilization. Though instrumental, this introductory track evokes the thematic ethos of the rest of the album succinctly; with an acoustic and atmospheric beginning, relentlessly grandiose arrangement and riffs that foreshadow the harmonies of upcoming songs.

2. Knights Collapse:

Knights Collapse (the single for Shadows of Man) is a tongue-in-cheek historical narrative from the perspective of English peasant-archers who emerged victorious in the 1415 Battle of Agincourt. The lyrics are mostly researched from the second chapter of the venerated military historian John Keegan’s The Face of Battle. The song begins forcefully abrupt out of State of Nature’s whimsical ending, with pounding drums behind a concise marching riff. ‘Knights’ was written from a variety of influences; many of which are not genres of metal. For instance the vocal rhythms and rhyme patterns are directly influenced by rap artists such as Aesop Rock or Del the Funky Homosapien. Surprisingly, death metal and rap seem to share many musical parallels; with vocals functioning as a sort of lead-percussion in both genres. This crossover is becoming evident in the rap-influenced vocal rhythms of many contemporary bands, such as Canada’s technical death metal masters Archspire.

3. Flayed on the Birch Rack:

Like ‘Knights Collapse,’ the third track of the album relates a narrative directly based on research from one of Angus’ university history courses. The track brings the listener out of medieval Europe to the early colonial Great Lakes area of North America. The story is told from the perspective of a war party from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Five Nations Iroquois) as they track and raid a party of Huron escorting french Jesuit missionaries. The song goes into the grisly details of the Beaver Wars era captive taking rituals; an extended ordeal of assessment by torture to determine if a captive is strong enough to be adopted by the tribe as one of them. It is largely based on the accounts of missionaries such as Jean Brebeuf, as related in the 1632-1673 periodical The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Musically, Flayed is a mosaic of death metal laid out chronologically: with an introduction of Bolt Thrower style brutal death metal, to thrashy melodic death metal in the vein of Arch Enemy and ending with a signature Amon Amarth pagan metal storm.

4. Wandering at the Moon:

On the CD version of Shadows of Man the ending of ‘Flayed’ seamlessly fates into an acoustic epilogue; on the individually-tracked version this interlude is included in the acoustic introduction of wandering at the Moon. ‘Wandering’ is an esoteric musing that was conceptualized by Scimitar while the band was under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms. It explores futility and the miss-assumption that the belief in universal futility must lead to nihilism; the futility of the universe can also mean ultimate freedom instead of hopelessness. Like ‘Cultivate’, wandering was previously self-produced and released by Scimitar as a studio video in 2014. ‘Wandering’ is a succinctly concise song lyrically, which departs from the rest of the album musically with a much more present electric-sounding synth.

5. To Cultivate with Spears:

To Cultivate with Spears was Scimitar’s first release after the debut album, as a single and studio video in 2013. The new version of the track on ‘Shadows’ is very finely polished compared to the old, with matured arrangement and modern production. ‘Cultivate’ was also the first Scimitar track lyrically based on one of Angus` university history courses, and was the first song that the band ever self-produced. This paved the way for Scimitar to self-produce Shadows of Man in its entirety years later. The song is a ballad that narrates the rise to power of Shaka Zulu, the early 19th century hero of the Zulu nation. It is a narrative meant to aggrandize his life as well as give an overarching perspective, on the impact that he had on his people and their surrounding nations through the chaotic ‘Mferane’ diaspora. Shaka Zulu’s later interactions with colonial Britain are specifically left out of the narrative as they did not affect the eminence of his personality, and they are not relevant to his rise to power. ‘Cultivate’ is an upbeat and rollicking melodic death metal track, with bombastically rousing riffs and celebratory drums.

6. Shadows of Man I: Imperium:

The first of the two-part title track for Shadows of Man; ‘Shadows I: Imperium’ is a fantasy story that represents the rise of an isolated island empire, akin to an iron-age Easter Island. The story arc for ‘I: Imperium’ and ‘II: Cataclysm’ are largely influenced by The Course of Empire; the 18-33-36 series of paintings by Thomas Cole. Both ‘Imperium’ and ‘Cataclysm’ are being developed into animated lyric videos, with the Course of Empire as the moving backdrop (the Imperium video will be available before the release show on August 23rd EDT). ‘Imperium’ begins just like the album does, in the primordial State of Nature with a similar atmosphere and acoustic introduction. As the narrative advances through the ages so does the arrangement; the song itself builds in dynamic intensity as the depicted empire grows. In the tradition of Scimitars debut album Black Waters (2010), ‘Imperium’ also features an extended section of Iron Maiden-esque duelling guitar solos.

7. Shadows of Man II: Cataclysm:

While ‘Imperium’ is the rise of the empire, ‘Cataclysm’ is the inevitable fall. Inspired by the presiding theory for the fall of Easter Island, the archipelago-empire described in ‘Imperium’ has consumed all their resources in the frenzy of perpetual growth; their forests are now useless brush devoid of game, their rivers polluted and their fields over-cycled and barren. All the other islands visible from their shores have already been conquered and colonised, the still-proud people now gazing from the sands at an endlessly encroaching oceanic horizon. Now that the empire has established its hegemony the rulers wallow in decadence and spend their dwindling coffers on grand stone edifices that glorify their rise to power, mortared with the blood of common folk and slaves. These works are unabashedly constructed in the shadows of the crumbling stone monuments from a forgotten empire long past. ‘Cataclysm’ is a relentless song; both the drums and the vocals hold a constant, break-neck pace for the first two and a half minutes. Like ‘Imperium’, ‘Cataclysm’ also features multiple guitar solo-sections that hearken back to bygone ages of heavy metal.

8. Where Ancient Spectres Lie:

Where Ancient Spectres Lie is the oldest song on the album; the first version was released in 2011 as a live demo. ‘Spectres’ is influenced by the natural splendour of Scimitar’s home in the Pacific Northwest; Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver Island features uniquely awe-inspiring nature with dense, mountainous coniferous forests (that in some places even classify as rainforest) beside jaggedly treacherous Pacific coastlines. The lyrics for ‘Spectres’ take the listener through a conceptual-fantasy story of the spirits that inhabited the land before humanity and will continue to after we are gone. This narrative fits with the overarching theme of the album that the grand works of humanity are fleeting when compared to the eternal forces of nature. Various woodland samples, reminiscent of those in ‘State’ and ‘Wandering’ but this time including the shrill cries of ravens move the listener through this grandiose primordial theme. Musically, ‘Spectres’ is a mosaic of melodic extreme metal; from it’s verses with Amon Amarth style death metal chugging to a section of blast-beat infused black metal.

9. Mysterium, Tremendum et Fascinans:

The closing track of Shadows of Man is one of the newest songs on the album, foreshadowing the direction that Scimitar’s sound is developing towards. The lyrics and title “Mysterium, Tremendum et Fascinans” are derived from the religious thinker Rudolf Otto’s (1869-1937) concept of the ‘Numinous’ experience; an overwhelming feeling of mystery, terror and fascination in the face of divine holiness. Angus re-interpreted this theological concept as a feeling that all humans experience whether religious or not; it can be derived from anything that compels our emotions to a transcendental or divine level. For some this is sports or music or video games or art or sex or narcotics, whatever the case this feeling of mystery, terror and fascination becomes a blinding addiction itself apart from what originally compelled it. This lyrical theme was yet again inspired by a lecture from one of Angus’ university courses, this time in political theory. The beginning of ‘Mysterium’ is perhaps the most black metal section Scimitar ever created; with grating production and demonic effects in homage to the ‘true Norwegian black metal’ pioneers that the band loves. ‘Mysterium’ then ends just how Shadows of Man begins, with an acoustic respite from the cacophony of our species existence.

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