Two years ago Shear introduced the world to their debut full-length, “Breaking the Stillness,” which showcased the Finnish band as a band worth watching into the future. Two years later, the band releases “Katharis” to the world, the anticipated follow up that will put more cement in the band’s foundation and establish what trail they are attempting to blaze.
Vaguely bringing to mind German counterparts Deadlock, Shear brings to the table a mix of heavy metal guitar, well-placed keyboards and soaring female vocals all tuned into a seamless presentation where no one element is meant to outshine another. There’s a solid launching point of accessible rock and roll and traditional metal convention that separates Shear from similar bands though, making their music more poppy (not a bad thing in this case,) and gives the band a sense of familiarity.
The strength of “Katharsis” is the same strength that Shear has carried as a band for two records now, which is a solid grasp on composing ‘big’ moments. The drama on this record is very real and palpable; Shear wants you to feel their music as much as listen to it, and “Katharis” accomplishes that with aplomb. It’s a product of precise orchestration that makes the crescendo of songs like “Home” appropriate. There’s a clever juxtaposition of non-stop riffing and airy keys that makes the song buoyant and edgy at the same time, which is a delicate balance to be sure.
Moreover, Shear also knows when to push the pedal, using their natural proclivity for machine gun riffs to up the tempo for later cuts like “Not Myself.” The formula remains much the same, but the execution makes the pieces fall in different order, which helps “Katharis” not feel like you’re listening to the same thing over and over. Absent this small but critical facet, “Katharis” may well have fallen apart.
All of the talents outlined above are coupled with the vocal prowess of Alexa Leroux, who can bring the overpowering heat for “For the Restless” or the cool, poppy placidity of “Hollow, Black & Cold.” She is equally accomplished in both points and seems tireless in recitation. The placement of her strong vocal versatility is a key ingredient in the mix of “Katharsis” but doesn’t dominate the album, allowing the listener to enjoy each part in proper time.
Regrettably, the only issue with “Katharsis” is that it doesn’t know when to turn the switch off. For all its mastery of the drama inherent in this type of metal, that’s pretty much the only game plan for this record. Which is fine if you’re listening to the singles in isolation, but as a contiguous listen it becomes blurred and blankly overwhelming. After a while, the high emotion of both the music and Leroux’s vocals becomes commonplace in the absence of anything to compare it to.
There are wonderful moments of powerful dirty metal mixed in the album, particularly in the breakdowns of the remarkable “I Care.” Had those been allowed to breathe for the duration of an entire song without interruption, it would have been the necessary change of pace to supply the album with just a touch of something different. Perhaps for next time.
For a sophomore record, “Katharsis” still shows the promise that makes Shear such a notable band to watch. They’ve yet to stumble, and the construction of “Katharsis” shows incremental steps in writing ability, even if it can be too much of a good thing. “Katharsis” is absolutely worth checking out, and Shear remains a band to keep on your radar.