Shakra - Fall - Candlelight Records 2006
Running Time: 47:47
These days, a band releasing an album unabashedly inspired by the
larger-than-life arena rock of the late '80s/early '90s is an anomaly.
Nevertheless, that's exactly what Switzerland's Shakra have done. With a penchant for memorable songwriting, Shakra have been in the game since the late '90s, previously releasing four albums of their hook-laden high quality hard rock. And now, Candlelight Records (US home of Entombed, Vader) have seen fit to expose us to the band's fifth album, Fall.
At the start, 'Chains Of Temptation' worried me, sounding like any number of Clear Channel-owned "Alternative Hard Rock" stations caught in a blender, but by the time the chorus had arrived, robust and big as TNT in their heyday, it was pure hard rock heaven. The insistent rhythm of 'Out Of Control' pushes forward, and is one of those songs geared towards making you want to roll down your windows, crank up the volume, and push the accelerator to slightly (or well) above the posted speed limit. It succeeded, at least for me. There's a fair bit of the sleazy hard rock made famous in the late '80s (Black N Blue, Kik Tracee) to be found in 'Take Me Now', and I could swear I've heard the main riff in the verse of 'All Or Nothing' a few hundred places before, but I can't for the life of me place where. Maybe this works to the band's credit, Shakra seeming to have a stockpile of memorable, hooky AOR at their disposal. This is once more evidenced in the smoky power ballad 'How It Feels', recalling early '80s Scorpions ('The Zoo', primarily) with the pipes of new vocalist Mark Fox of the more raspy Klaus Meine school than his clear-voiced American counterparts of the era. The first unabashedly metallic moment in Fall arrives with the muscled-up guitars and throbbing bass of 'Walk On Water', Fox's vocals again seeming perfectly suited to this style of music. Think Tony Harnell after a pack of cigarettes, without the stratospheric high notes that puncuated early TNT. It's clear from the way the band gels (even in today's world of digital recording) that Shakra has been at this for awhile. Still, the six-string duo of Thom Blunier and Thomas Muster shy away from overplaying, concentrating on variations on the main melody line of the songs for the majority of their solo work. 'She's My Ecstasy' stumbles somewhat, and while the song isn't "bad" by any stretch, it just doesn't stick in the memory on initial listens. Still, with an album so chock-filled with groove-oriented hard rock thus far, I'm sure we can allow even Shakra their mis-steps. 'Make It Alright' is a simple, midpaced rocker, packed with memorability. Somehow even the textbook '80s hard rock Vito Bratta-isms of the solo don't seem out of place here. 'Nightlife' cranks up the metal machine again, the band hammering out a tune that could've been lifted musically from Judas Priest's more melody-driven output, or maybe from underrated European hard rockers 200 Volt. One of the good things about Shakra is that they make no bones about what they are. The denim-and-leather contingent will wonder why I'm bothering to even give this obviously non-Heavy Metal album a cursory glance, but maybe that's why. I can respect any band willing to truly go against the tide of the all-too-trendy mainstream. Ending with the slightly blues-tinged power ballad (think Dokken with a little Great White thrown in) 'Immortal', Shakra exit on a high note, and still leave me wanting more.
Admittedly, your fans of Meshuggah and Crowbar won't find much to enjoy here. Which is just as well. That isn't the crowd this band is shooting for. My only hope is that an album as deserving of mainstream acceptability as Fall is finds its audience. The first Shakra release to see US shores injects new life into a dying scene, and is better by far than the majority of the recent output of the bands that insipired them to do what they're doing in the first place.