Formed in 2014 and with one EP and a long player to their credit, relative German newcomers, Lunar Shadow have released their second album, “The Smokeless Fires”. Though their lifespan has been relatively brief, the journey has not been without its setbacks as line-up changes, including vocalist and other personal problems have put potholes in their road. This album is the brainchild of band leader and songwriter Max Birbaum who explores the human condition and that essence that keeps one going despite adversity.

“Catch Fire” confirms the bands’ classic heavy metal influence with “Painkiller” era Judas Priest overtones after a melancholy piano introduction. There’s plenty of spiky riffs and a sound that is very clean as the opening tracks show plenty of post 2000 Iron Maiden meets Scorpions melody. The guitar pairing of Birbaum and Kay Hamacher works well with stabs of neat lead work. While the songs are neatly crafted and the musicianship is tight there is perhaps a sense of sterility that doesn’t see them take flight to the extent one might hope.

The album’s mid-section is far more reflective, especially on the piano led track “Pretend” that has a very personal feel to it. They mix it up with the more pop metal sensibilities of the Ghost tinged “Roses” which is quite hooky. The closing tracks show off some harder edged and more welcome riffs that push into darker spheres. Eastern tones on “Red Nails (For the Pillar of Death)” shows this and maintains the album’s introspective themes. Coupled with the final number “Hawk Of The Hill”, there is the feel of a band that have stuck to a safe and formulaic approach to song-writing. Some more angst vocally at times would compliment the often hard hitting riffs and give these songs a kick along and take them to the next level.

“Smokeless Fires” never really threatens to break loose and while the performances are solid enough it feels a little insular and conformist at times. There’s a definite sense of focus and growth though and no track overstays its welcome. Nor is the album overblown in any way. This is a solid effort that gives the impression this band has more in the tank and just needs to break the barriers some more.

(6.5/10 Johnny Zed)