29 Mar 2023

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Shepherds Reign - Gig Review: Shepherds Reign @ Galatos, Auckland - 10/09/2022

12 Sep 2022 // A review by Kev Rowland

Tonight, was another rescheduled gig from Covid, as this was originally planned to take place to celebrate Matariki, the Maori New Year, but because of band illness could not take place at the time. Due to other commitments, I had missed seeing Shepherds Reign when they supported The Hu last month, so was really looking forward to this I had not seen them play since the middle of last year.

Up first was Kiko, who describe themselves as playing Maori Blues, which is why they are called Kiko as that is short for “kikorangi”, the Maori word for blue, which can be translated as “the flesh of Rangi Nui” the Sky Father in Maori mythology. Opener Patupaiareha has less to do with blues and far more with rock-based reggae with some killer twin guitar harmony melodies as they created a sound which really makes the listener want to move. I was saying to photographer Ginny before the gig that I remembered guitarist Kara Gordon when he was playing as Kara Gordon and the Wreckage, to which she replied that he used to be her guitar teacher! The rest of the band comprise guitarist Lukas Wharekura, bassist Windon Bradfield, and drummer Phil Peters while Rewi McLay provides guitar and vocals – yes, we have a three-guitar line-up even though they are not a metal outfit. They segued into Nga Han E Wha and were really kicking up a storm as their mix of reggae, rock, and lyrics in te reo is incredibly infectious. Their twin leads are strong, more Wishbone Ash than Thin Lizzy or Iron Maiden, yet they can crank it up when the time is right, and we often get noodlings while Rewi is singing.

Ka Puta followed in the same vein, and I was already a fan. I do not listen to much reggae to be fair, but there is something about the music these guys were producing which was wonderfully inviting and a sweet-sounding hard-hitting blend of very different genres which brought to mind the likes of Living Color in some respects and Troy Kingi in others. They moved into English with Bury Me, but this was the only song like that in the set tonight. Given this was originally supposed to be for Matariki one could see why they were playing, although they are not nearly as heavy as the headliners who are very different indeed! Mind you, even though it was not as heavy as I expected, I was having a blast, although there did appear to be something wrong with the lighting as it was incredibly dark, which made me glad I was writing the review and not trying to take photos! The title track of the new album, Waharoa, was next and although it started gently this was the heaviest of the night so far with a powering rhythm section and was the closest to blues-rock we had heard yet with a real bite, and some great twin leads. There are moments when they provide complex interplay with all three guitars and bass locked in as one which is incredibly impressive. Some of the guitar breakouts, such as at the end of Atua, are simply insane and when they announced that Awha was the last song I was not the only one disappointed. This is a very special band indeed and I am looking forward to seeing them again soon.

Next up was Strangely Arousing, a band who have even less in common musically with Shepherds Reign than Kiko, as here we were moving even more into the world of dub. It features Lukas Wharekura on vocals and guitar, who was telling me beforehand that it is incredibly rare for him to be in a bill which features both bands he plays in, and he was already warmed up after the Kiko set. He is joined by bassist Shaun Loper, Liam Rolfe (trombone, backing vocals, dubs, samples, keyboards), Oliver Prendergast (drums, samples) and Daniel Reshtan (saxophone), and right from the off we were in a world where the groove is all that matters. With Liam providing so many different elements it allows the band to keep shifting the sound and style, and while dub is at the heart, Lukas still finds plenty of room for some rock guitar. They kicked off with Rain, and even though this is a style of music which is alien to me, I was surprised at just how much I was enjoying it. When musicians are really into what they are doing and have the ability to pull it off then it does not matter what the genre is, as the listener and performer are connected as one. Caught My Eye saw Lukas and Liam taking turns providing lead vocals, and while the tempo was slowed down there was moments when they were ripping out lines which were a real word salad. The song keeps twisting and changing through multiple sections, bringing in solid jazz here, rock there, and reggae throughout and it stops on a dime.

Come At Me starts life in a more traditional fashion with twin horns and the beat solidly on the third in the bar, and the harmony vocals add a lightness away from the solid bass which adds a commerciality and hook which really brings in the listener. Some numbers, such as Pretty Little Ditty, have lighter arrangements and are not nearly as complex, while others are incredibly complicated with a lot going on. Their set was varied, blending in soulful elements at times, then moving these into something far more dub and while Ah Chikaa had gentler moments, there was also come cutting rock guitar, all with the groove at the heart. The crowd certainly got into the sample of Teddy Bear’s Picnic as we all joined in on the words, it was impossible not to. Their style of music is all about the rhythm section as it builds the foundation for everything else, and Shaun kept swapping between keeping it tight and providing additional melodies while Oliver was doing the same, ensuring the groove stayed locked in but also providing additional fills. Daniel could often be found providing a harmony with Liam, yet there were also plenty of times when he threw in a solo which took the music in another direction. Lukas has good diction, so even when he is pouring out words as if they are a stream of consciousness one can still easily understand what is being said, no mean feat. Although this is not a style of music I generally listen to, I came away mightily impressed, another fine live band.

Shepherds Reign continue to go from strength to strength, having already picked up an award at the 2022 Pacific Music Awards and playing gigs in Australia in recent months as well as supporting international artists in NZ, and now here they were at Galatos on a Saturday night. This Samoan metal band feature Filivaa James (vocals, keyboards, pake), Oliver Leupolu (guitar), Gideon Voon (guitar), Joseph Oti-George (bass guitar) and Shaymen Rameka (drums), and I know from experience that when they hit the stage there really is no-one else like them. The guys were stood on the stage in the darkness while a Samoan track played, then Filivaa strode onto the stage, started a beck and call with the band, and suddenly we were into Aiga and the heaviness had gone from nowhere to off the scale. There were grooves earlier in the night, but here they were of a different nature, full of power and passion. They have an incredibly heavy bottom end as they take the stylings of Sepultura and turn them into something very much their own, and while Joseph and Shaymen provide a foundation of reinforced concrete, guitarists Oliver and Gideon swap between adding to that or throwing in some leads. This is music which is all about being strongly combined with the bottom end, the vocals being forceful yet part of the same attack so when the arrangements are lifted such as on Reign it has a very powerful impact indeed. They have a finesse all their own, in that they have a sledgehammer but know how to use it so that there is delicacy as well as brutal attack.

The guys were not messing about tonight, and with Filivaa bringing out his keytar to provide additional keyboards we were straight into Concrete Walls with no-one being given any time to catch their breath. These guys mix it up so sometimes Filivaa sings in English, others in Samoan, and always with passion and coarseness which adds an additional element to the brutality to what is happening beneath him. Next up we had a new number in Ua Massa, and the band were just getting heavier as the night progressed, somewhat lightened by a delicate solo from Gideon which incorporated wah wah. It was no longer possible to see Filivaa’s face as his head was now just a solid mass of hair, and both guitarists split away from the rhythm section to create something much higher with the different parts of the arrangement combining, hard. By now it seemed the band could not get any heavier so instead they sped everything up with Nafanua and while the riffs crunched the vocals shone out over the top.

They are incredibly heavy, the arrangements complex, yet their music is often commercial, none more so than in Legend where the keytar was again used to provide some additional elements. As with the last time I saw them play they invited rapper Swizl Jager onto the stage to join them for Nga Ao E Rua (Two Worlds Collide), a metal v rap song that is performed in Samoan and Te Reo. I was not a huge fan when I heard this played previously, but tonight there was additional power which ensured this came across well, and certainly fitted in with what had been taking place earlier in the evening. The raps mixed in with melodic vocals and a thumping beat while the guitars were determined not to be left behind and by the end it felt like an anthem. Swizl stayed on the stage for Savage’s Swing, and yet again this was transformed into something metallic and monstrous, and a long way removed from the #1 original. If that wasn’t enough then the band grooved into Limp Bizkit’s Break Stuff, making the song again more dynamic and powerful than the original (which to be fair, isn’t too hard…).

Swizl then left the stage, and a delicate melodic bassline brought us into Why Can’t You Die, which veers between crunch and melody. Ala Mai started with a backing track of a pate, and then Falivaa started playing his, with the rest of the band crunching in as we lifted into something special, blending instruments and styles in a way which is distinctly Shepherds Reign. Oliver and Gideon stand on either side of the stage in total control of all that is going on, blasting the riffs, or throwing out leads as needed, Joseph and Shaymen keep everything incredibly tight and phenomenally heavy while Falivaa is the master of the show. Soon we were into The World Bleeds, one of their truly epic numbers where everything is pushed to the max. In places this is one of their most commercial, with gentle melodies, while at others it is brutality personified and is a heck of a statement. It was over way too soon with Samoa Mo Samoa, a brutally heavy end to a groove driven night. 

Yet another incredible evening at Galatos. The live scene in Auckland has rebounded in a big way and there is no excuse whatsoever for not getting out there and seeing some amazing bands playing fantastic music.

Photo Credit: Ginny C Photography

Kiko Photo Gallery
Strangely Arousing Photo Gallery
Shepherds Reign Photo Gallery


About Shepherds Reign

Hailing from the deep Polynesian stronghold of South Auckland, Shepherds Reign have stamped their powerful mark on the New Zealand and international music scene in a very short amount of time, creating a huge buzz from their live shows. Combining the traditional and ancient music of their forefathers with modern rock and metal influences including bands like Gojira, Avenged Sevenfold and Dream Theater, Shepherds Reign have found their own unique sound in a cluttered and overblown musical environment.

Unlike any heavy artist, Shepherds Reign bring a captivating and enthralling sound with the use of the Samoan language, instruments and culture, making it an integral part of their live show. The evocative and primal live show displays a fierce pride for their music that wins the audience every time with its blood pumping ritualistic beats, thick melodic textures and an undeniable power that hooks the audience into the bands dark and heavy realm completely.

A fifteen date tour of New Zealand as special guests of Devilskin's RED NZ tour 2020 cemented a place for Shepherds Reign as a force to be reckoned with and won them a huge swathe of new fans. Paul Martin, bassist for Devilskin and producer of The Axe Attack commented “I totally knew our audience would love these guys! I can’t remember being this excited over a band for a long time. They completely blow me away with everything they do, attitude, commitment, passion and an unashamedly distinctive sound. But the real magic is in the songs. Powerful, compelling and totally undeniable.”

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Shepherds Reign


Shepherds Reign
Year: 2018
Type: Album

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