Monday, November 20, 2017

Album Review: Shakra - Snakes & Ladders

There's a degree to which rock and roll is about arrested development, and the refusal to grow up. At least that's the stereotype about the music, which has often played straight into it, with a mentality exhibited that is perpetually caught in adolescence, if even that developed. Plenty of rock and roll is childish, which makes it interesting that Shakra has named their new album after a game. It was sanitized over the years, but "Snakes & Ladders" is surely a more intriguing name than what many of us know it as. It also is a more matured version, which hopefully bodes well when we peek under the hood, because the last thing my fraying patience needs is another album mired in the first stage of brain development.

Thankfully, Shakra is not scraping songs off the bottom of the barrel, but as the record unfolds, I'm struck by the feeling that the title and imagery are the most interesting part of the whole thing. I don't mean that as an indictment of the record, because it's actually pretty good at what it wants to achieve. Their brand of rock is heavy enough, melodic enough, and definitely solid. The issue is one that I have with any number of albums during the course of a year, where there isn't anything that stands out about the record to make it unique. Shakra can blend into a lineup of melodic hard rock bands very easily, which does hamper the album to a degree.

When we listen to music, perhaps even more important than the album being good is that it's memorable. That can come in the form of being great, but it can also come in the form of being terrible. There are plenty of records that we all have heard, that we all remember, and we all still talk about, that no one wants to ever listen to again. But they exist in a way that makes them completely unique to themselves, and we can't forget the music or the band, even if we want to.

Shakra's music, on the other hand, is comfortably familiar. In both style and substance, this isn't far removed from every other band playing in the same genre. The only ways to fully differentiate yourself are to exist on a higher plane of songwriting, have a guitar hero in your ranks, or have a singer who transcends the band. Shakra doesn't have any of those things. THe songwriting is good, but compare them to albums from Harem Scarem or Eclipse this year, and they don't quite hold up. The guitar playing is fine, but there aren't many riffs that will make people pick up their instruments because they want to learn, and singer Mark Fox has the nasally rough voice that is not out of line with all the people who have tried to ape Axl Rose or Brian Johnson over the years. It's not a tone that I particularly enjoy listening to for long stretches of time, but he's certainly capable.

And that's what I wind up thinking about Shakra. They're fairly good at what they're doing, and there are some very good songs on this album. I enjoyed listening to it while it was playing, but there isn't anything about it that pulls me to return to these songs again and again. I was trying not to use the word 'generic', but it might be the easiest way of getting my point across. "Snakes & Ladders" is a fine album, but fine is only worth so much.

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