It’s time for some new music, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out recent releases from Missouri hard rockers Shaman’s Harvest, Las Vegas popsters Imagine Dragons, Bay Area punks Rancid and British duo Royal Blood.
New Album from a New Artist
Royal Blood: How Did We Get So Dark?
Formed in Brighton, England back in 2013, Royal Blood make a hell of a lot of noise for a two-piece band. You might remember them from songs like Out of the Black, Little Monster or their massive breakout hit Figure It Out, which has a shade over 15 million views on YouTube — not a bad achievement for a band with just a bass guitar and drums.
After road testing the band name in Australia with another partner, singer/bassist Mike Kerr formed the current incarnation of Royal Blood with school friend and drummer Ben Thatcher. The duo struggled to find gigs at first, resorting to playing open-mic nights with acoustic singer-songwriters who must have been a little surprised by their new stage-mates ability to get the crowd on their feet.
With influences from blues, hard rock and psychedelia, Royal Blood sound at times like stoner rock gods Kyuss, without the tendency for navel-gazing. Make no mistake — Royal Blood rock the hell out. There’s also a line in Sly Stone-style funk on tracks like She’s Creeping and even a touch of KISS-style glam on Don’t Tell.
There is a refreshing simplicity to two-piece bands. Rather than treating the format as a limitation, the best duos push the envelope, producing music that puts bigger bands to shame — Polyphonic Spree, I’m looking in your direction…
Standout tracks: She’s Creeping, Hole in Your Heart, Where Are You Now?
Sample lyric: "Say my prayers every night, but no one’s there to make it right.” (Look Like You Know)
Verdict: 7/10 — modern rock without the fripperies.
New Album from an Old Artist
Rancid: Trouble Maker
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I almost died at a Rancid gig. It was at a Big Day Out inside the Hordern Pavilion sometime in the early 90s and I made the poor decision of getting into the moshpit with a bunch of blokes who were a lot taller, fatter and drunker than I was. Ten songs and twenty minutes later I managed to drag myself out of the maelstrom, enjoying the rest of the show from flat on my back wondering if I was having a heart attack. But at least they played Ruby Soho…
Many years after that fateful afternoon, Rancid are still doing their thing. The fact that “their thing” hasn’t changed much in 26 years is either cause for celebration or derision dependent on your perspective and, after a few listens, I tend towards the former.
Produced by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, Trouble Maker is an old-fashioned punk album, simple, loud and angry.
Formed in 1991 in California out of the ashes of seminal ska/punk band Operation Ivy, Rancid have always been a no-nonsense punk band. The raspy vocals of dual lead singers Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen would never be confused for tuneful singing, but that has always been part of Rancid’s charm.
With only a couple of the 17 tracks breaking the three minute mark, ninth album Trouble Maker doesn’t wear out’s its welcome, delivering a blast of old school Cali punk rock. If you have fond memories to rocking out to …And Out Come The Wolves, I can almost guarantee you’ll find something to like on this album.
Standout tracks: Telegraph Avenue, Farewell Lola Blue, Buddy
Sample lyric: “The ones who stand for freedom of speech, well this one goes out to you.” (Telegraph Avenue)
Verdict: 7/10 — punk as f**k.
Album I Expect to Suck
Imagine Dragons: Evolve
It’s not that I don’t like Imagine Dragons. In fact, they have the capacity for writing incredibly catchy pop songs, as evidenced by their massive selling singles like Radioactive and It’s Time. It’s just that they have a tendency to write songs that verge on novelty territory, which means that, while fun, their music tends to have a limited lifespan.
A perfect example of this is new single Thunder. Undeniably catchy, the hook features an auto-tuned voice that seems likely to become grating after a dozen or so spins and unlistenable not long after that. While my 20-year-old self with his unwarranted arrogance and magnificent head of hair would have dismissed the whole album on the basis of this disposable single, fortunately now I’m older and wiser. So I gave Evolve a listen. And then I gave it another.
After two listens, I think I’ve got pretty much all I’m going to get out of Evolve and it really wasn’t was bad as I expected. It seems Imagine Dragons have a lot of love for the 1980’s, specifically bands like Duran Duran and WHAM! Their influence runs deeply through Evolve, the upbeat synths and poppy hooks recalling men on yachts in blousy shirts and women with big hair and small bikinis.
There is nothing inherently wrong with Evolve and, in fact, it has a couple of tracks that might stand up to the test of time. It may be unrealistic to expect introspection and depth from a band formed in Las Vegas, but if you set your expectations at a reasonable level then you may well enjoy this album for a few months between now and the end of the year.
Standout tracks: Thunder, Believer
Sample lyric: “I was broken from a young age, taking my sulking to the masses.” (Believer)
Verdict: 5/10 – light and fluffy but lacking substance.
Ch-check It Out…
Shaman’s Harvest: Red Hands Black Deeds
Listening to Red Hands Black Deeds for the first time, I noticed an odd percussive beat, a little like a Lagerphone but somehow dirtier. A little research reveals that this is the sound of goat toes, which I suppose I could be forgiven for not recognizing on first pass. When asked about this odd choice of instrument, guitarist Josh Hamler talked about the band’s desire to eschew digital and made the bold claim that “goat toes are the new cowbells”.
Formed in Jefferson City, Missouri in the late 1990’s, Shaman’s Harvest released debut album Last Call for Goose Creek in 1999. Over the next few years the band toured relentlessly (including gigs supporting AC/DC, Cheap Trick and Alice in Chains) and released a couple more albums, but they didn’t really break big until 2009’s Shine. Featuring the single Dragonfly, the album brought the band mainstream attention, which they parlayed into 2014’s Smokin’ Hearts & Broken Guns, streamed over 31 million times since release.
From a musical point of view, Red Hands Black Deeds doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but that’s because this wheel works pretty damn well already. At turns moody and atmospheric (Soul Crusher, title track) and full-on rock (Broken Ones, The Come Up) Shaman’s Harvest recall the best of the Black Crowes mixed with a touch of Black Sabbath, funky yet menacing.
If you’re one of those people who think auto-tune is an invention of the devil, there is a good chance that you will love Red Hands Black Deeds. There are scuffs and imperfections aplenty, but they make this album more authentic than 90% of the so-called rock music produced today.
Standout tracks: Broken Ones, A Longer View, Tusk and Bone
Sample lyric: “When a call goes out to war, when it comes to your front door.” (A Longer View)
Verdict: 8/10 – well worth a listen for fans of real rock ‘n roll
Books by John Turnbull are now available on Amazon and Kindle. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe. Damnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in the IA store HERE. (Free postage!)
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