posted on 2/2006 By:
So here I find myself reviewing a little outside of my normal harsh-vocal box with the latest output from Switzerland’s Shakra. While my tastes generally run towards the more extreme end of metal’s spectrum, Fall is anything but; this shit crosses the line into slightly metalized hard rock, and it brings with it all of the proclivities associated with that decidedly different compositional mode. Big, infectious choruses, crunchy power-chord progressions, stratospheric solos and the occasional ballad are the order of the day here. Shakra aren’t taking a lot of risks and certainly aren’t about to rocket to the forefront of modern rock, but they execute their chosen style in a largely competent and entertaining matter.
Though Fall is fundamentally a rock album, the traditional and power metal influences are plentifully and tastefully inserted throughout its twelve tracks. For example, chief axeman Thom Blunier’s classically inflected (and decidedly metal) leadwork is Shakra’s standout trait from the outset; his soloing is articulate and emotionally charged, and he thankfully doesn’t resort to aimless shredding or whammy-bar triteness. Many of the songs on Fall are virtually anchored by Blunier leads, and in a few fortunate cases a particularly well-placed solo will send a track clear through the roof (the Judas Priest-riffed “Walk on Water,” for example). Blunier also works well with fellow guitarist Thomas Muster to crank out hard-edged but not overdone riffing, and tracks like (predictably) anthemic opener “Chains of Temptation” and up-tempo rocker “Out of Control” display their ability to support frontman Mark Fox without dominating the music. Fox, for his part, is an interesting compromise as a vocalist. Though he sings mostly in registers that are generally associated with power metal, his voice is decidedly throatier than the average vocal-school-trainee metal timbre. His vocal tone is confusing at first and takes some getting used to, but has a more distinctive character than many of its peers.
For all of their excellent fundamentals and solid grasp of their musical paradigm, though, Shakra comes off somewhat stale. This might have something to do with the fact that their understanding of hard rock/metal songwriting is a little too exact; Fall oftentimes sounds like an exercise in sticking to convention. The song distribution here is exceedingly predictable (anthem, speedy track, ballad, ass-shaking mid-tempo groove, longish centerpiece, ballad, anthem, etc.), and the songwriting itself would benefit from deviating more often from standard verse/chorus structure. The ballads, namely “How It Feels” and “Immortal” are stinkers and are just barely salvaged by their respective Blunier guitar pyrotechnics. Oli Lindner and Roger Tanner’s decidedly rudimentary rhythm section does little to add subtleties or variety to these tracks, or any other for that matter. Ultimately, though, this shit isn’t really the point; this kind of music is essentially a vehicle for big choruses, and it’s here that Shakra slip the most notably. With a few notable exceptions (the aforementioned “Walk on Water,” the title track, and “Do You Know?” come to mind), Fox’s choruses simply don’t break into fist-pumping emotional territory the way they should, and as a result the band comes off somewhat flat and uninspired.
This said, if you’re a fan of throwback hard rock/metal you’ll likely love this band; they’re good at what they do and have a few standout musicians to sweeten their otherwise mixed songs. Recommended for those in search of a leather-jacketed longhaired fix, but not necessarily for the public at large.
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