"Relentless but compelling ..."
Young Wellington metallers Shihad have already promised big things with their pin-you-to-the-wall live shows and debut EP.
But nobody said it was going to be this big, this soon. Churn is simply, excitingly huge.
And that's especially frightening considering it's the debut album of a band not long into their twenties, and presumably not long having worked their way through their teenage influences.
It's also the first long-player out of producer and Killing Joker Jaz Coleman's new York St studios in Parnell.
A man who's been known to talk a good game since setting up here, Coleman's production - along with the recording and mixing of Malcolm Welsford - certainly suits the Shihad approach.
While it's already been noted that the influence of Coleman's band makes its presence felt in first single I Only Said and in a few other moments of arpeggiated guitar and such-like, it's certainly not enough to weigh the album down.
And weight it has from the malevolent tribal drumming of Tom Larkin, through to the pile-driving riffs of guitarist and singer Jon Toogood and Phil Knight and bassist Karl Kippenberger.
A few reservations about Toogood's vocals, though. They're a little too shouting from the back rather than leading from the front - in the machine-like crunch of Shihad it would be good have some shred of humanity to hang on to, or even mumble along with - and the distortion treatment is perhaps used too many times to make an impact.
However, Shihad's is a lean, mean, disciplined, tense, unfriendly nose blending the hyperactivity of metal with elements of the sonic assault pioneered by the local likes o Bailterspace and the Skeptics.
It relies on (appropriate for a Wellington band) earthshaking dynamics and jarring rhythms for its power rather than the speed metal flash for quick tempo changes - although they aren't averse to throwing in a few clutch-shredding gear shifts for good measure - or fret-fiddling lead guitar.
The fun begins on Churn's nine tracks with Factory, lurching off at all angles. Screwtop fits around an elliptical riff with stereo panned noise thrills and treated vocals.
Fracture is just as bone-crunching with its big Bonham beat before descending into a chorus Alice in Chains would be proud of.
Stations' attack creeps slowing to a frenzy, Clapper Loader is among the noisiest things here, I only Said has that certain singalong-while-shaking-fist quality. Derail hits something very deep very often, Bone Orchard's guitars chime U2-ishly before hitting a Dinosaur Jr type grunge-out and Happy Meal's feast of white noise and vocal weirdness closes this debut with a sprint finish.
Relentless but compelling to the end, Churn should create a stir far from these even now shakier isles.
- Russell Baillie
"Sweating blood ..."
Start describing the sound of Shihad - that young and unique New Zealand metal band - and you'll soon end up confusing music with physics
Volume, momentum, mass, velocity, torque - they're all useful terms when it comes to calculating Shihad's considerable X factor. Especially son on their astounding 1993 debut album, Churn. Then the band may not have been following any formulas, even if the ever-puzzling Jaz Coleman was producer and an undoubted influence - but the result was metal as an exact science.
A sonic thrill, certainly, but for all its formidable power, Churn still felt cold and uninviting. To swap from physics to medicine for a moment, it was as shiny, cutting and jagged as a surgical power-saw. And occasionally just as sterile.
No such problems on the follow-up, Killjoy, though. Produced by Churn engineer Malcolm Welsford and the band, it's warmer sounding while more varied in its approach over its nine tracks.
Rhythmically - and with Tom Larkin's playing, this is one band able to extract power and colour from its drums - it relies on a sense of groove than grate. That still comes with high -torque execution though, right from the opener, You Again, through The Call with its swelling momentum and shout-along chorus, and the wrenched riffs of the dark anthem and present single Bitter.
Great songs like those and the slow-fused For What You Burn argue that Shihad can be filed nearer Soundgarden than the disciplined but bloodless alterna-metal likes of Helmet.
However, there are also the hard fluid grooves of Gimme Gimme, with a pop chorus hidden among its firestorm, along with the squall of Envy and some lesser tracks that show the influence of Coleman's apocalyptic post-punkers Killing Joke is still being felt - even if Shihad are possibly doing a better Killing Joke here than even Killing Joke managed on their recent reunion album.
So Killjoy is less physics and less an exact science. There are still plenty of sonic thrills, but this time Shihad sound like they're sweating blood while the songs are breathing deeper.
- Russell Baillie
"Isn't quite there yet ..."
Having established themselves as the biggest, rockingest noise on the New Zealand rock block, come album number three Shihad has decided to mix it up.
Less of the pile driving riffs, fierce beats and all that shouting. More of those melodies, more boogie, even the occasional ballad.
The trouble in declaring your interest in the song craft side of the things gets you judged by different rules. Ones which hold the tunes and the words which drive them up to the light. And as such, it seems from the sometimes unfocussed efforts here, Shihad isn't quite there yet.
There's certainly enough of that hydraulic strength rock in the likes of fevered first single La La Land and the likes of Ghosts from the Past and the dirty slouched riffts of Pig Bop and Outta Phase.
But Jon Toogood's tunes elsewhere have a knack of sounding reminiscent of mid to late '80s Brit bands as on the opening track Home Again with its funk-scratched guitar and Leo Song. Or coming on like the Urge Overkill syled powerpop of It's a Go.
The acoustic ballad Missionary doesn't add much while the closing string-laden track Boat Song remind of the Mutton Birds' Anchor Me, though not boasting much of at une to carry the out-to-sea atmosphere.
Still it shows some lyrical bravery, the words having been largely hidden behind the firestorm of their past albums. Especially when Toogood takes on westie values in Hate Boys.
But otherwise, this shows Shihad on the movie somewhere interesting but that htye haven't quite arrived.
- Russell Baillie
The General Electric
"Oddly well-rounded ..."
It feels like there's a lot riding on this one. Shihad's fourth is their first offshore-recorded/name-producer album and the band have now based themselves in Australia with a new record deal.
It also follows the "must try harder" report they got on their previous effort, and those impressively belligerent first two albums on which they tempered their initial metal leanings into a muscular, granite-textured rock.
Initially, The General Electric comes on a mixed-up affair - guitars make way for electronics on some tracks; the tempos range from punk-sprints to brooding balladry; the lyrical mood spans barbed anger, missing-you love songs and some that run seemingly on the power of positive thinking.
It can make it all seem intense, dense and not a little overwhelming on early listens. But then it falls into place, quite brilliantly. Sound-wise, it makes for as good as an example as any we're likely to get of how a hard rock record should sound in late 1999.
And spiritually - now there's not a word we like to bandy about - it shows Shihad are that rare beast: A band that care.
Not just about where rock is heading but where their generation is too.
Sure, they might be as cynical as the next twentysomething on the likes of opener My Mind's Sedate, and Jon Toogood might be giving racist rednecks a dressing down on the Thin White Line (something he's done before). But between the thunderous drums, the tough guitars and surging retro-synthesiser touches a strange optimism shines through.
It's not a particularly sophisticated notion - frontman Toogood's lyrics are direct and sometimes built for anthems (as on Only Time and the title track which hollers: "Doesn't it feel just great to be alive?...) but it's certainly rousing, emotive and affecting.
As are, of course, the band's powerhouse playing. Whether it's the electro-boosted churn through Sport and Religion, chugging glam-fashion on Life In Cars, coming over all Devo on Just Like Everybody Else, or giving it some trademark Shihad guitar lurch on the title track.
Has its soppy bits too, but even they just make for an oddly well-rounded affair - an "album" sort of album. A great one too. Whatever is riding on this should buckle up tight.
- Russell Baillie
"A 12-track green card application..."
There was always going to come a point where the band formerly known as Shihad weren't going to be satisfied just with being angry young men - or the great white hopes - of New Zealand rock.
And this, the name-change album, is the sound of that dissatisfaction.
Long-time local Shihad fans, who had seen them transform from young metal wonders to something a whole lot more interesting by the time of last album, The General Electric, may find it unnerving.
It's in comparison to that previous album that Pacifier pales in many ways. Yes, Pacifier may go all the way up to 11 after the efforts of wunderkind rock producer Josh Abraham (Limp Bizkit, Staind) in the studio. He may have encouraged frontman Jon Toogood to have been more direct and heartfelt in his lyrics. And it may have 9/11 as its backdrop - just like every other album recorded in the northern hemisphere now coming out.
But while The General Electric was warped and imaginative and varied and sounded like nothing else around, Pacifier plays it straight, plays it loud, and gets those choruses to ring forth the angst, one after another.
It also buries Shihad/Pacifier's real power - its rhythm section - beneath a lot of power-chord guitars.
An incidental irony - the song Pacifier, which the band chose as their new name and which appeared on The General Electric - would sound seriously out of place on Pacifier the album.
There are songs, like the opener and single Comfort Me, Run and Nothing, that make one suspect the heavy cut'n'paste hand of Pro-Tools studio software in their construction and their overwrought choruses - rather than rock instinct.
That's especially so of the irksome Comfort Me which goes from opening jittery Shihad-riff bit, to tortured verse bit, to the squiffy giz-a-hug chorus to rap-metal bit.
It does bring some distinctively Shihad firepower to bear on a run of tracks, the likes of the glorious Bullitproof, Semi-Normal (the My Mind's Sedate of the piece), and the hydraulic Trademark sounds like the best song that Nine Inch Nails never wrote.
But it's hard to get past the idea of this being a 12-track green card application - and that if any of the hometown crowd start mumbling about liking their old stuff better than their new stuff, then it has done its job all too well.
An English reviewer memorably noted that if Shihad were American they would be unbeatable. Problem fixed.
- Russell Baillie
Love is the New Hate
"An off-kilter thrill..."
You've got to hand it to them. Coming back from the ill-conceived name change to Pacifier and subsequent change back, as well as again failing to find any traction in the United States, might have been the undoing of a lesser band.
But Shihad are made of sterner stuff. So too is Love is the New Hate. Generally it's a more aggressive, less conventional affair than the Pacifier album. If its predecessor asked you to Comfort Me, this one initially seems intent on shouting a lot about the state of the world and picking a fight over it.
But eventually it reveals itself as something of a consolidation album, one which takes various threads of the band's past stages and wraps them up together. It's an album that doesn't move them forward as much as key past albums such as Killjoy and The General Electric did, but it still sounds much more like Shihad - or the very idea of Shihad as a metal-bred band which has long since risen above its genre - than they managed last time.
True, it has some stadium-friendly moments, when frontman Jon Toogood can sound like he's auditioning for the job of the new Phil Collins (Saddest Song in the World, Dark Times). But there's a compelling power to the bulk of the songs and the playing behind them, whether it's the return of metal-Shihad on Empty Shell (complete with a Toogood coughing fit to finish) or the pneumatic punkpop of Big Future.
Elsewhere, the Shihad penchant for dislocating rhythms helps make the likes of Day Will Come and first single Alive an off-kilter thrill. And the album's bravest move - bookending the 12 songs with two quiet thoughtful ballads - the suicide lament of None of the Above and finale Guts and the Glory - gives what's between them its own redemptive and optimistic spirit.
Live, Shihad were always Shihad even when it did put out a live album under the Pacifier brand. Now they've figured out what that means in the studio, all over again.
- Russell Baillie
"Morphed yet again ..."
While Shihad have made shonky decisions in their 20-year career, the Wellington lads have never made a bad album.
The pummelling power of Churn and beautiful brutality of Killjoy in the mid-90s not only made them one of the heaviest bands to come out of New Zealand, but their rock sound was unique.
On the Fish album, the anthem Home Again ensured the band was etched proudly on the toilet walls of venues around the country alongside the Exponents (Why Does Love Do This To Me?) and Th' Dudes (Bliss).
There was the classic, General Electric in 1999; then came the name change and the Pacifier album, which, despite it being pristinely produced and American sounding, has some of the best Shihad songs on it like Semi-Normal and Run.
Last album Love Is The New Hate was poisonous and bitter but purging. And so, on the band's latest, Beautiful Machine, we get a more optimistic and happier Shihad. But it's not soft, thanks to questioning tracks like Waiting Round For God - a hymn for non-believers, says frontman Jon Toogood.
They have never lost that big, ballsy, distinct Shihad sound. On Beautiful Machine it has morphed yet again to include more keyboards and technology and overall takes on a more breezy, melodic and fresher rock 'n' roll form.
That might sound like another term for lightweight, and many will want Beautiful Machine to rock a bit more. But keyboards and cleaner, 80s-soaked guitars can rock too.
There's also string arrangements, shimmering synths and wonky tremolo effects, which shows the quartet are children of the 80s, influenced by more than just Metallica, AC/DC and Slayer.
There's the cocky, slightly camp swagger of Rule the World which comes complete with "woohoos"; many of the bass lines, especially on the title track, have a touch of Joy Division about them; and Chameleon and The Bible And The Gun have guitar parts that sit somewhere between the steeliness of post punk and U2's grandiose The Unforgettable Fire.
Waiting Round For God is one of the most beautiful songs they have written, again, without being soft, because of ribbing lines like "while all the lunatics are waiting round for God".
The most raucous Beautiful Machine gets is Count It Up, which can only be described as Shihad doing Mint Chicks.
However, it's the eerie, keyboard-driven When You Coming Home? that sums up Beautiful Machine best. It's very un-Shihad but proof they can write songs that don't rely on being heavy or, in the words of Toogood, "f****** weighty".
So, and don't take offence, it's about time metal-head bogans who still worship Churn moved on. Synthesisers rule.
- Scott Kara
"Heavy and harrowing ..."
starts unlike any Shihad album has before. Yes, they've come up with long songs before in their 22 years together but
The Final Year of the Universe
, a lurching and melodic six-minute plus chugger, acts as a staunch strainer post at the start of their eighth album. It's heavy, solid, and builds expectation. It lets you know you're in for something different from
, which was softer and heavier on the synth.
That album was the band's most lightweight and inviting since the bouncier moments of the Fish album - and Ignite fires Shihad up again. Not that it's pummelling and abrasive like 90s classics Derail or Gimme Gimme, although I'm A Void (a relentless and arcing beast), Nemesis (Dark Star) (a trashy and punky track similar in mood to 2005's Love Is the New Hate), and The Final Year of the Universe (whose working title was, rather fittingly, Massive Sabbath) give it a fair nudge.
It's no wonder the band felt inspired to play the Killjoy and The General Electric shows recently, as the overall dynamic here is heavy and harrowing, while still reeling off catchy, and often intricate nail bomb riffs.
Even the two singles, Sleepeater, with its head-nodding floppy-fringe beat, and the more mangled and electric groove of Lead Or Follow (about frontman Jon Toogood's problems with procrastinating), have one foot planted in the mongrel position and the other in a melodic and soulful stance.
Elsewhere, the title track is a lilting and dreamy soul-searcher, then there's the more frenetic Engage, with its synthesiser drones and high beams, and last track Cold Heart is part stomper, part exotic, searing rocker, which finds Toogood in fine lecturing form with the line, "I wish I had the time you waste".
The thing is, now that the band have risen to the lofty heights of winning the New Zealand Herald Legacy Award, and being inducted into the Music Hall of Fame, we might just have to start listening to that lippy and cheeky Toogood.
One thing's for sure, Ignite proves that the award - and a place in the hallowed musical halls - is well deserved because no other New Zealand band (or many international bands, for that matter) make mainstream rock quite so heavy and potent as Shihad.
- Scott Kara