Review Summary: It's all kicking off, but do you think we'll wake up?
Shihad – also known as the only band from New Zealand that people not from New Zealand have ever heard of – are one of the more impressive bands which Australia has shamelessly stolen and claimed as their own. Opening for such celebrated acts as Faith No More and Anthrax before they'd even released more than a backroom, sweat, blood-and-tears garage thrash EP titled Devolve
, the four-piece's career has become the go-to exhibit of a band with something like mistaken musical identity. Over an impressive 25-year run Shihad have careened from the vicious industrial metal of their not-so-humble beginnings to glistening, radio-ready pop records such as Beautiful Machine
to the offbeat rock-and-roll masterclass that is the General Electric
and back again. It often seems like Shihad are chasing an elusive sound they will never capture, a unique blend of pure rock, shimmering pop and pissed off post-grunge that is always just inches out of their reach. Yet as frustrating a career as this may seem, the silver lining is that whatever end of the spectrum Shihad fall on any given album they are able to produce an enjoyable, consistent product.
, somewhat unexpectedly considering the direction of the last two Shihad albums, has its two feet well planted in pure rock 'n' roll and it doesn't take its foot off the throttle for a minute. With some deep-seated personal inspirations stemming from lead singer Jon Toogood's father's death as well as political roots in the Five Eyes spying scandal – hence the album title – you could be forgiven for expecting an album of politically motivated rants, but thankfully Shihad keep the Enter Shikari-isms to a minimum and instead hark back to a General Electric
-style "fuck, fuck, fuck 'em all and take what you can" style of simple, furious, repetitious battle cries. Speaking of which, Toogood seems to have difficulty going more than two lines without saying some sort of expletive – I mean, one of the pre-choruses is literally "cheap! cheap as fuck!" and another chorus going simply "fuck you! fuck you!" - but would you expect less from a returning-to-rock, back-to-our-roots style album from the New Zealand boys? By-the-numbers rock 'n' roll it may be, but Shihad are smart enough to not just take the AC/DC path and make the same song 11 (or three hundred) times over. From balls-out rollicking tunes such as opener "Think You're So Free" to more liberal uses of slower tempo and breathing room as seen on the anthemic "Song For No One" or the absolutely delicious groove of "Loves Long Shadow", Shihad spice up their tunes enough to maintain interest without compromising the album's core ideal – that they are pissed off and not afraid to let the world know about it.
Toogood's excellent voice is as versatile as ever, easily adapting itself to a fierce whisper on closer "Cheap As" before soaring to greet the kinds of choruses that fill stadiums on "Song For No One", a style the band delved into at times too deeply on albums Beautiful Machine
. As satisfying as those albums could be at times – and there's not too much more to expect than satisfying when a band that began their career opening for Anthrax decide to start making dance tunes - Shihad were always at their best when they flexed their muscles a bit and contrasted pounding verses with U2-worthy choruses (see "The Metal Song" for a triumphant example) and on FVEY
Shihad are keen to let us know that they remember the past all too well and are greeting the future head-on and snarling.
On the negative side of things, at some point in Shihad's career they seem to have left behind the heartfelt sincerity that characterised their first moves into poppier territory and, most importantly, made "Pacifier" such a fucking masterpiece
of a song. Maybe Shihad have put aside the heart in favour of the fist for this one, although when the fist is made of iron and drives home with such unstoppable force you can forgive them this move for the most part. Yeah, I'm sure that somewhere right now one of the "original" Shihad fans is sitting with their fush-and-chups complaining how their older stuff was better and that they'll never live up to the unbridled punk fury that drove "My Mind's Sedate" home like a bullet train (to which I would reply that the absolutely wicked tempo change in "Cheap As" has a few words to say on the matter) but to focus on the positives here: Shihad are still as youthful, energetic and full of vigour as they ever were, they are asserting with a firm hand that the best is not yet behind them, FVEY
is an absolutely worthy addition to an already distinguised career, and they show no signs of stopping anytime soon. Do not doubt them for a second when they tell you "it's all kicking off."