Shepherds Reign – Ala Mai
Golden Robot Records
Release Date: 25/08/23
Running Time: 55:40
Review by Paul Hutchings
When you mention metal and New Zealand, it’s inevitable that the name Alien Weaponry is mentioned. The Auckland-based trio have forged their own path across the world and have certainly paved the way for further bands to emerge from a part of the globe that was rather light. I’m not a huge fan of Alien Weaponry, but thankfully, Shepherds Reign have stepped up to bring an alternative.
Their biography confirms that the band is a collective from South Auckland, who embody their Polynesian heritage through primal performances sung in their native tongue. They draw deep on personal, family, and cultural experiences, incorporating indigenous instruments into their music, which combine with crushingly heavy riffs in a style that takes influences from the likes of Gojira, Dream Theater and Avenged Sevenfold, and melds them with their own style to create a unique experience.
It was latest single ‘Nafanua’ that initially caught my attention. A punishing yet dynamic track, it’s a song about the Samoan Goddess of War. Lyrics aren’t necessarily a showstopper for me, with the overall feel and passion in a song appealing more, so the fact that I didn’t understand the meaning didn’t prevent me from being intrigued.
“Ala Mai” is the band’s second full-length release, following 2018’s eponymous debut. Comprising 13 songs, it’s a potent piece of work, musically fluid and ever changing, never sticking to one formula. Thus, you get some pieces that are more traditional metal in style, such as ‘The World Bleeds’, which mixes melody with driving tempos and a combination of English and native vocals. The musicianship is impressive, with the guitar work ferocious yet clean and incisive. A song about the corruption in the world today, it’s a powerful observation.
They aren’t afraid of a ballad either. ‘Cold Summer’s Night’ considers depression, the impact, and the hope that can come from overcoming problems. It’s a deep, lovingly crafted song that stands out in many ways, showing a subtle and human side to counterbalance some of the more powerful and aggressive songs that are featured. Similarly, ‘Finally’, described as a love song, sees vocals combine with piano in complete contrast. It’s not my favourite song here, but it provides the variety that makes this album so interesting.
“Ala Mai” is possibly a little too long in my view, but as gripes come, that’s about as minor as you can get. The album is bookended by traditional songs ‘Aiga’ (family) at the start and ‘Mo’omo ‘ogo Sa Molia’ at the end. It opens with the dynamic ‘Le Manu’ (The Beast), an appropriate introduction consisting of a war chant about one of Samoa’s most famous warriors. It’s top loaded with fiery tracks, ‘Nafanua’ and the title track both coming hard and fast and demonstrating the velocity and intensity that Shepherds Reign bring.
There are plenty of other highlights on this fabulous release. It’s an album to spend time with, to absorb, to read the translations and understand the meanings behind. In a year of high quality, “Ala Mai” is another album that stands very much at the top table.
01. Samoa O La’u Fesili
03. Le Manu
05. Ua Masa’a
06. Ala Mai
07. The World Bleeds
08. Cold Summer’s Night
10. Never Forgotten
12. Samoa Mo Samoa
13. Mo’omo ‘ogo Sa Molia
Filiva’a James – Vocals / Keytar
Gideon Voon – guitar
Oliver Leupolu – guitar and production
Shaymen Rameka – drums
Joseph Oti-George – bass.
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