By this point in their careers, Fallstar are one of the more quietly consistent metal bands in the Christian scene. In the period of a little over a decade since their debut full length, Reconciler. Refiner. Igniter., the band have regularly returned with top-notch material that blends the best of modern metal with a healthy sense of musical experimentation and passionate lyricism.
Both musically and thematically, Sacred Mirrors feels like a very natural progression for the band, especially from 2021's Sunbreather. Even the two album covers bear similar color schemes. Musically, it's easily the strongest collection of songs Fallstar have released to date, and that's no slight against any of their previous albums. Sacred Mirrors is divided almost evenly between softer post-hardcore tracks and entries that rival the heaviest in the band's catalog. Album opener "Timebender & The Jet Engine" gets the album off to an energetic start. It's perhaps the most straightforward metalcore track the band has written since Backdraft. While perhaps less ambitious than previous openers, it allows the band to fully show off what is to come. The riffs and drumming have never been tighter, and the vocals effortlessly shift between high and low screams and soaring choruses. The album never loses momentum, as even the lighter tracks remain full of energy with upbeat melodies. Other musical highlights include the electronically tinged heaviness of "Doomsayer" and "xSCARZx", and the near-pop melodies sprinkled throughout "Screaming Through the Walls."
The epic album closer, "Water House," delivers Sacred Mirrors' strongest moments of experimentation, as the band seamlessly blends a slow building dreamy intro into one of the album's most energetic and upbeat tracks punctuated by electronic flourishes and delightfully riffy breakdowns. The track brings the album to a satisfying conclusion by wrapping around to the post-hardcore sound much of the first half of the album explored, while also pushing into some new directions. Chris Ratzlaff's vocals have never sounded more ethereal, with some of the melodies and tones evoking A Thousand Suns-era Linkin Park in a very positive way.
If there's a weakness anywhere in the album, it's the repeated patterns between the softer tracks. That's not to say any of them sound identical, but all maintain a somewhat similar formula and tone. It might not even be noticeable if not for the sequencing of the album, with "Sky Symmetry" and "Crooks & The Damned" back-to-back early on, and "Screaming Through the Walls" and "Discordia" next to each other later. Each song is great on its own, but a bit more separation would allow them to truly shine.
Lyrically, the album perhaps showcases the progression between albums even better. While both Future Golden Age and Sunbreather each had plenty of moments celebrating a hope for a more just earthly future and ultimately heavenly perfection, they also necessarily focused on the sufferings and injustice currently present. Sacred Mirrors flips that formula slightly, and the result is absolutely brimming with optimism. The lyrical throughline centers on what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God in the present, especially focusing on introspection and reflecting on whether we are truly pursuing what we are called to do. Perhaps the strongest moment in the album comes in the chorus of "Sky Symmetry," with the lines "We will set our eyes to the unseen / To the future we could grow / If we can make it up above / We can make it down below / We have fires to fight / We have seeds to sow / But if there's a heaven above / We can make it here below." It's a statement that may be theologically challenging for many listeners, but in keeping with the theme of the album, introspection on what it truly means to pursue righteousness and the Kingdom of God in the present may even be driven by wrestling with disagreements. Even the songs that tackle specific issues ultimately point back towards the need for Christ, such as "Savior Self" tackling arrogance and the temptation of false self-sufficiency: "We split the atom, count the stars and multiple ourselves / Better to know yourself / Better to face what lies within / We seek a savior, someone stronger so we cry for help / Better to know yourself / We'll crawl our way out of this hell."
It's rare for a band several albums into their career to write a record that summarizes everything good about their past releases while also representing a clear step forward. That is exactly what Fallstar have done with Sacred Mirrors. The songwriting features clear influences from every previous album while operating at a consistently high level of quality. The performances of every instrument and vocal style are excellent while also complementing each other perfectly. Even the peripheral elements shine here, as the production is easily the richest and clearest the band has ever had, while maintaining the organic touches from past releases. There's very little to nitpick with this release, and it should provide quite a treat for both fans of the band and the genre in general.
Editor's Note: The song "Eternal Engine (Die Up)" includes the lyric "Karma ain't a b*tch she's a mirror for the cautious."- Review date: 7/13/23, written by Kevin McGuire of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Facedown Records
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