Artist: Shaman’s Harvest
Album: Red Hands Black Deeds
Label: Mascot Label Group
This album showed up in the mail a few weeks ago, and has been sitting on my desk ever since. I’ve never heard of the band, had no idea what genre they were, and no idea when the album was coming out. It got buried in a pile of things, as my computer does not have a disc drive; I tend to build up a stack of albums before firing up my ancient and abysmally slow older computer for the sole purpose of ripping CDs. And so, a few days ago, when I finally ripped my latest pile, I threw the album on. Usually these unfamiliar albums get nothing more than one listen, and then if it doesn’t catch my attention, it goes back into the pile and never resurfaces. So it already says something, since I’m writing right now. As it turned out, I had a few days before the release day still, and so I thought it was worth a review.
So who and what are Shaman’s Harvest? They’re an alternative rock band from Missouri, USA, formed by Matt Fisher (bass), Nathan “Drake” Hunt (vocals), and Josh Hamler (rhythm guitar) all the way back in 1996. They’ve cycled though a handful of lead guitarists and a plethora of drummers before arriving at their current lineup back in 2015, and this is their first album since 2014.
As for the album itself, what can I say? I was very impressed. I listen to very little alternative music these days, which is intentional but also somewhat a shame. My familiarity with alternative rock is entirely linked to the 90s – bands like The Tea Party, Moist, Bush (X), Alice in Chains, No Doubt, and Garbage were never passions, but always bands that I very much enjoyed in my youth, in my pre-pop and post-country era.
Red Hands Black Deeds has a very nice collection of songs that remind me about what’s great about alternative music. The title track is only 2:13 long, with a slow build-up, functioning largely as an atmospheric intro track, marching along with little backing music and focusing on the droning vocals, with a bit of simple guitar adding emphasis in the background. There are some elements of country in Hunt’s vocals, which I appreciate, as it makes it sound a bit western.
They speed things up immediately with “Broken Ones”, a song that sounds like it was designed to be a single. The song makes interesting use of layered vocals and grungy guitars, metaphorically referencing Icarus flying too close to the sun. You can imagine my amusement when I found out that the day before I first listened to the album, this had been released:
Okay, it’s not necessarily a single, but it was the first release. The song does feel like an obvious single though, sounding a bit like a generic alternative song, and while not by any means a bad song, it’s definitely my least favorite. The lyrics might be a bit political too, which I can’t deny that I enjoy. If you want something more my speed though, try the first official actual single, “The Come Up”, which has nice riffing and a really catchy tune, while coming across as less aggressive and generic than the previous track. Plus, it has a nice solo. At this point, it became evident that there is also a female vocalist in the backing vocals, though I can’t say I could find out who she was. This is a nice, positive response to depression, as opposed to a lot of the negative stuff in out there these days.
The first ballad of the album follows in “A Longer View”, which again shows off the gentler side of alternative, with softer vocals without any distortion like in the previous track, but still plenty of power and dynamics as it builds up towards the end. “Soul Crusher” immediately brings in a more funky rhythm, showing stylistic variety, and Hunt is not afraid to try some different singing styles – in this one it’s a nice execution of some rapidly-sung lines.
The band then takes a more country-style turn with “Off the Tracks” and starts up with a good old stompin’ beat, that then almost switches to a punk rhythm in the chorus. The guitarists are not afraid to make bountiful use of the whammy bar either. Lyrically, this one sounds a little dirty, from what I can gather, wink wink.
If this hasn’t been enough stylistic experimentation, “Long Way Home” feels a bit bluesy in style, slow in speed with no drums or bass in the beginning, before turning things up in the chorus. I wish I knew more technical terms to describe the styles used in this song, but let’s just say that there are a few familiar sounds and they put them together nicely. Also, there’s a little bit of 70s-style keyboard floating in the background here as well.
A slow, ambient intro precedes “The Devil in Our Wake”, building up into a surprisingly heavy guitar line (with a bit of shred mixed in here and there) and some strong, deep vocals. It then goes full alternative in the chorus and reminds me of everything I loved about alternative back in the 90s without sounding too obvious. This is definitely another personal favorite, and I’m missing the word to describe the vocal style Hunt uses this, but I really love it. On my first listen-through I found myself dancing along in my chair before I even realized I was doing it. That’s the sign of a good song right there.
The bass is featured in the intro to the interestingly-titled “Blood Trophies”, with some gentle chords to accompany them until Hunt comes in. This mid-tempo track has some funky riffs and a subtle warbling effect on the vocals in the verses. There are hints of The Eagles -style classic rock and even stoner rock riffing in this. Sharp, repeated notes open up “So Long”, taking it in yet another direction, including yet another catchy chorus that’s begging for a singalong during live shows.
“Tusk and Bone” is another slower track, guitar-driven with some mildly warbling vocals, which takes the album’s speed down a level as it heads towards the end. The acoustic guitar is particularly nice, with damping and tapping interspersed throughout, and there’s a hint of country in the vocals. It’s a bit reminiscent in feel of “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, if that song kicked up later on – the song has a very passionate solo towards the end that builds things up to an excellent climax before the vocals take it to fade out. Another soft, atmospheric piece, “Scavengers”, which again has that wild west feel to it (similar to the vibe in the opener) then acts as the closer, making the album feel like one cohesive unit.
Oh, but don’t forget to listen to the song at the end of the album, which I have gone ahead and entitled “Hookers and Blow”, which is straight-up country and pretty hilarious. I missed it twice because I was so enthusiastically restarting the album when the last song faded out, but on the third time I found it and had a good laugh.
So indeed, Red Hands Black Deeds turned out to be a very pleasant surprise! The vocals and guitarwork particularly shine on this very diverse piece, with enjoyable riffing and a variety of singing styles. They have no shortage of genre inspirations and aren’t afraid to blend them – they take some risks with it, but I can’t say that I think they fail in any of their efforts. You can easily rock out to and/or dance along with most of the songs on the album. The only real failing for me was the first release, as it was the most ‘standard’ song, with nothing new or interesting in it, feeling like every other alternative song ever. However, honestly, I can’t say if I’ve ever really been ‘into’ an alternative album before, so this might be a first for me, and that certainly says something! Well done!
Rating: 9.5/10, 5 stars
1. Red Hands Black Deeds
2. Broken Ones
3. The Come Up
4. A Longer View
5. Soul Crusher
6. Off the Tracks
7. Long Way Home
8. The Devil in Our Wake
9. Blood Trophies
10. So Long
11. Tusk and Bone