Five long years after their eponymous first album release and building on the success of recent kickass single Le Manu, heavy-weight Tāmaki Makaurau act Shepherds Reign return with a very polished album ‘Ala Mai’ (‘Awaken’).
Inevitable comparisons with Alien Weaponry will occur, as both are heavy bands representing their own cultures in their lyrics and themes. These comparisons are valid, but Shepherds Reign lean more towards the more produced and proggier end of heaviness. That’s not to say they don’t hit hard and fast at times, but simply that the production is crisp and clear, the compositions more symphonic and complex, the guitar solos clever and articulate. Even though the vocals often have an aggressive edge, they are cleanly recorded and delivered. Add in touches like the piano on Never Forgotten, and the acoustic guitar and yearning vocals on Cold Summer’s Night, and you have an album that truly shows off the range of the band.
Indeed, by the end of Never Forgotten we get a soaring outro that one could imagine a certain famous top hat-wearing guitar slinger playing, and then the next song opens with strings. It’s varied and dynamic and yet ‘Ala Mai’ all hangs together perfectly. As previously covered by NZ Musician, the song Ua Masa’a has a very personal and hard-hitting theme – it’s a testament to the band that they have the skills to do justice to even the darkest moments of the album.
When Le Manu came out, some wondered whether the proudly Polynesian band would lean further into their heritage and culture on the next release – was there anything else they could add to further differentiate themselves? The answer is provided by the addition of some extremely cool island-style drums on this album which really amp up the energy. They fit perfectly in the heavy style, adding a distinctive element without being subsumed by the metal riffage. Released on the widely connected Golden Robot Records label ‘Ala Mai’ just could be the album that launches Shepherds Reign onto the world stage.