Shields – Beyond the Pale
It’s 1994, I’m 9 years old, I’m discovering Pearl Jam for the first time, my mind is being overwhelmed by distortion, it’s literally being set to ‘overdrive’!
Except it’s not 1994, it’s 2012, and I’m not 9, I’m 26. This grunge is not coming out of America, it’s being bellowed out of the depths of West Yorkshire, and the band in question think their guitars are fucking longswords!
Shields are here to show you how Grunge was, will and ever should be played.
Hailing from Leeds (a city currently playing the role made famous by Seattle during the early 1990’s), Shields proudly describe themselves as “Medieval Power-Core”.
Bold Words. But this is not the proggy medieval rock operas of Mike Oldfield, this is the gritty, war torn furrows of battle. The pounding, brutal slug of metal against bone…and it’s good.
EP opener, ‘My buddy went to Azeroth…’ sets out the band’s stall well. Dynamic, almost bluegrass melodies (whom could they be inspired from? We’ll return to that later) coupled with brutal, ironclad riffs and haunting, operatic yet gruff vocals. Lyrics are minimalist, the riffs are the stars here on the track, thumping and pounding it’s way in to being. Born on the battlefield this beast is.
Frustratingly, the second track, (although it’s more like a bridge between tracks one and three), the ludicrously named ‘Nimoon Bilboggin’ almost undoes all the great groundwork of ‘Azeroth’, losing the pace it built in favour of moody aesthetics and heavy foreboding drama. All of which can be accomplished just as well in a three and a half minute song, rather than a one minute ‘filler’.
Nevermind though, as things do move on up again with the even more ludicrously entitled, ‘Christpuncher’ (I kid you not!), which managed to intertwine the band’s statement of intent the most effectively. Slightly removed vocals inform the underproduction of the track, giving it a lo-fi, gonzo credibility. It’s throbbing, sweaty stuff and your eyes had best be staring right at your shoes as you sway along to it. Things almost become ‘dark metal’ and teeter worryingly close to the comedic before the band pull in the reigns around the two and a half minute mark, and tease us in to submission with two and throws between bass and impending, doom laden guitars. Intimidating, uplifting and life affirming all at once. The clever bastards.
‘Your name is Mudd’s distorted riffage bears strong resemblance to Smashing Pumpkins circa Siamese Dreams, complete with guitar licking hooks, and just doesn’t let up. Imagine Reuben playing Very Fast and Very Dangerous material with a deeper focus on melting people’s faces rather than making their brains explode (both of which are perfectly acceptable outcomes of a record/gig in this reviewers opinion!).
I must mention that a welcoming, confident constant throughout the EP is the percussion. Fizzing and rattling with cocksure assurance, pushing the tracks forward with an immediacy and strength.
‘Wolf Hungry’ steals DNA from Rival Schools’ United by Fate album and also has a distinctly Nine Black Alps level of attitude and swagger to this modern interpretation of grunge. It’s a delight of hooks and openly poppy chord progression, but produced in an economical, and interesting fashion, as to not dilute the overall sound of the band. If you were to be critical of the intro, removing ten to fifteen seconds unnecessary ‘atmospherics’, and cut down the outro by twenty seconds, the band have got an alternative music channel sleeper hit, it’s that strong a single.
Penultimate track, ‘Mooseknuckle’ (these track titles are inspired) is again a bridge between singles which I feel, for all it’s technical ability and at times quite affecting choice of notes and chords, is something which doesn’t necessarily help the EP in attaining the specular.
EP closer, ‘Slubberdegullion’ (they’re just taking the piss now!) focuses on layered lead vocals and the brutal riffs of which they opened with. There is a sense of anticipation and elegant doom to the music, with guitar effects creating at times eerie, almost scream-like effects before warping in to And So I Watch You From Afar style throbs of metal.
Don’t think the band are out of surprises at this point though, as Soundgarden come through stronger than any other influence, their almost Bluegrass inspired (told you we’d find out who the Bluegrass influence was) short, sharp guitar style clearly influencing Shields’ style of play, albeit turned up to 11 and thrown in a cement mixer!
So, what have we learn from Shields? Well, grunge isn’t dead, for a start. Instead it’s just moved from Seattle, a northern, industrial manufacturing city to Leeds, a northern, indus…(you get the idea) and now enjoys dressing up as a Templar knight at knocking seven bells of shit out of us.
To be fair, it’s still the same premise, the biggest difference being that instead of getting beaten up in a mosh pit, you’re more likely to be belted over the head with a mace, or a war-hammer, but what a way to go hey?
Grunge was always pounding, relentless stuff, with a simple theology behind it, that people who belonged to it were sick of things being so clean, so glamorous and false, as Kurt Cobain said “I’d rather be dead than cool”. Maybe Shields have simply found the right tools for the job, something gritty, heavy and simple to embrace, like fingers locking around the handle of a longsword, ready to swing.
And let’s not forget, grunge was never about being cool, it was about making an impact.
So, should we really be surprised the natural bedfellows of grunge may well happen to be medieval weapons of war, whose sole purpose is to decimate and strike, smash and pound, quake and quiver? Probably not.
So go fourth Shields and destroy us with music, you have the tools at your disposal, and my blessing.
Words: Fuzz Caminski