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Shepherds Reign - Album Review: Ala Mai

11 Aug 2023 // A review by Kris Raven

Aotearoa's Shepherds Reign are set to deliver their long-awaited new album Ala Mai to the world and set their place on the global musical landscape of heavy music as a band set for greatness. Known for blending various metal subgenres and Polynesian sounds that creates their overall concept, Ala Mai delivers hard and heavy head banging riffs, complex guitar arrangements and powerful and striking vocals that encapsulate universal themes of life, love, family, loss, and culture. 

A phenomenal live band that needs to be witnessed, this album captures that live energy and feel that they deliver on stage, into a well-produced and crafted album. The albums flow, like each song's lyrical themes, takes us on a journey of life and it ebbs and flows flawlessly. Having heard previous singles that have been released over the last few years, I felt I could truly embrace each songs emotions and energy as they hit me one by one throughout the album. 

The first half of the album is ridiculously stacked with hit after hit of heavy bangers. We head into single 2020 Aiga (Family) followed by 2022 single Le Manu. Both tracks are classic metalcore but with an updated modern take and roots influence. Big riffs that give me the feels of game changing metal acts like KSE and Lamb of God with some progressive fusion. 

Recent single Nafanua (Queen Goddess) was a highlight track. The song reminds me of American Prog Sludgers Mastodon, a lot of grooves with manic drum work and broody and expanded vocal melody. Frontman Filivaa James is such a presence and has a versatile voice that allows him to weave effortlessly from harsh and low vocals to hooky clean melodic vocals and everything in between. Nafanua is a massive standout track with a lot of progressive elements, precise and calculated double kick patterns that drive the intensity throughout.

Another standout track Ala Mai (Awaken) has a groove metal/Sepultura feel, vocally and musically. The chorus showcases different drum patterns from blasts to offbeat rhythms, one of many highlights of the powerhouse drummer that is Shaymen Rameka. The song then takes us into a chill nursery rhyme type vibe with rumbling low end from bassist Joseph Oti-George before launching back into intensity. These songs take modern metal, blend it with threads of metalcore, thrash and progressive metal and spin it to create their own unique take. The guitar solos from virtuoso Gideon Voon are simply incredible and his interplay with guitarist Oliver Leupolu throughout the album showcase their talents and musicianship. The leads are integral in adding or elevating different parts of the song with boosted melody or straight up shredding to drive the song to another level.

There are small elements in each song that add that bit extra, be it the percussive elements, strings, or keys. I loved the additional floor toms in the intro of The World Bleeds, really amplifying the song further as well as very hooky melodic vocals which remind me of Burton C Bell, haunting, epic, and huge. As we get further into the album, the pummeling onslaught takes a breath and we come to Cold Summers Night. Every metal album needs a ballad, and this track is truly beautiful and emotive. Once again showcasing James' vocal depth with melodious acoustic guitar work, it offers the listener a chance to catch their breath and is a really beautiful song, the dueling guitar solos really elevate it.

Finally takes it up a notch again, this should be a song cranking on the rock and metal airwaves and a song that entices mosh pits and sing along moments. Never Forgotten brings the tempo down once more and is sung in Samoan, Tongan and English. A very powerful song with heavy lyrical content of loss. James' piano work is highlighted here with the addition of strings and lush melodies accompanied by tasteful acoustic guitar. For the finale we are greeted with Atali'i (Son) with a strings intro! I want more strings please! And into Samoa Mo Samoa we go with big groovy Gojira vibe and relentless double kicks. The album closes with Mo'omo'oga Sa Molia, which to quote is "a tribute to those who fought and died protecting their land from would-be invaders and colonisers".

Believe the hype, this is one of the best metal albums of the year. In a time where music is consumed via singles and playlists, this album from front-to-back was an incredible journey with each song standing on its own. Shepherds Reign have carved their own niche into a broad but over saturated musical market and for those wanting to experience an exciting and international standard of heavy music, look no further and embrace the Shepherds. Fa'afetai.

 

About Shepherds Reign

Shepherds Reign bring their house to your ears, mind and heart. Their power and passion is unequivocal, their musical voices luminescent and majestic. They do not simply hit the stage to perform their songs. Their vocation is to present all aspects of their lives and culture, and there is a special passion and raw power in every word and note they seek to share with the world.

Hailing from South Auckland, New Zealand, and Polynesian by birth and blood, Filiva'a James (vocals/keytar), Gideon Voon (guitar), Oliver Leupolu (guitar/production), Shaymen Rameka (drums) and Joseph Oti-George (bass) are not messing around. Shepherds Reign is their life. Literally.

The band was co-founded by Filiva’a, Oliver and Shaymen. Filiva’a spent much of his childhood fighting on the streets of Mangere. He flipped that to become a correctional officer. Now he is chasing his dream of becoming a rock star. Says Fili, “As a baby, my parents and older siblings said I couldn’t sleep without music playing. Growing up with a big island family, everyone had their own taste in music. I grew to love them all. Bands like ABBA, UB40, Tiama'a, Jim Reeves, etc. My love for rock started when I first saw November Rain by Guns N' Roses at about 5 years old. Then I saw Slash with his guitar, and my mind was set”.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Shepherds Reign

Releases

Ala Mai
Year: 2023
Type: Album
Shepherds Reign
Year: 2018
Type: Album

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