SHAKRA – Snakes And Ladders

Here’s another band I can file under “bands I know of but have never really listened to”. When I looked through my endless cases of burnt CDs, I actually found two CDs by this Swiss band – Power Ride (2001) and Rising (2003), which means that I have listened to them at one point but for some reason, those albums never made any impact on me. However, their video for the debut single from their brand new album, “Cassandra’s Curse”, made me wonder whether I had made a musical error by not checking them out more properly before because I really liked the tune (more on that one later). As said song comes in a style I usually like, I had to give their new album a go because I had the feeling they just might be to my liking anyway.

Shakra was formed back in 1994 by guitarists Thom Blunier and Thomas Muster, singer Pete Wiedmer, bassist Roger Badertscher and drummer Roger Tanner but a few line-up changes has been made since then. Wiedner left in 2002 and was replaced by Mark Fox who was in the band up until 2009 and was replaced by John Prakesh who in his turn was the band’s singer until 2015 when he left and Fox returned. Badertscher left in 2000, was replaced by Oli Linder who left in 2008 and was replaced by Dominik Pfister and that is the band we have today. The band released their self-titled debut back in 1998 and have since made another ten studio albums, including the new one. The band has also made two live records to add to their pretty large discography, so there are quite a few albums for this guy to check out if their latest effort makes any impact on me.

The album opens with the single I just raved about, “Cassandra’s Dream”, a mid-paced, fat-grooved melodic hard rocker with a big 1980’s arena rock vibe. The chorus sports a huge hook and it’s hit-friendly without going “whoa whoa livin’ on a prayer” on us at all. And it has a darker mood and a crunch which takes a bit of commerciality off of it. Brilliant. “Friday Nightmare” comes on strong with a distinct and straight-forward 80’s hard rock punch. It strikes with a punch but the big melody stays with you after first listen – very good. The title track is pure melodic hard rock with a bite and a rhythm made for fists in the air. It lands somewhere between Pretty Maids and Gotthard and the brilliantly catchy chorus sticks like glue. “Something You Don’t Understand” is more upbeat, radio-friendly pop-metal with a nod at AOR and again Pretty Maids pops up, the more pop-laden Pretty Maids, that is. The über-catchy refrain makes this a contender as a future single, in my book. Awesome!

The pop-feel stays on for “The Seeds”. This is a groove laden melodic rock tune with a steady beat and an over-all catchiness that stick right off the bat – very good. With “Rollin'”, Shakra enter a more classic rock mode with a touch of early 80’s hard rock. While, it is a decent tune, it doesn’t really go anywhere and leaves me with a shrug of the shoulder. “Medicine Man” sends a nod to late 80’s Whitesnake but Gotthard also comes to mind. It’s a groovy and melodic hard rock tune with a striking punch and a really cool swagger and the tune really hits home right away – very good. “I Will Rise Again” (cowbell, cowbell!) rocks in a faster pace and kicks with a hard-hitting rhythm, very direct and in-your-face. The refrain is very direct and memorable without trying to be hitty. Another good tune. With “Open Water” it’s ballad time and this atmospheric and smooth soft rock tune comes in a very 80’s power ballad style. Acoustic guitars, strings, a mesmerizing melody and a chorus more addictive than a drug addiction completes this brilliant number. A hit, in my book.

There’s some high-octane, fat riffing and a ballsy punch in “The Race Of My Life” and the groove is really intense. There are some very memorable arrangements and sticky melodies all over the track and the refrain is total super-glue. Fans of melodic hard rock will love this one. “Fire In My Veins” brings out a heavy metal influence, especially in the guitar riffs. It’s pretty hard and rough and goes for the throat pretty much right away. Still, there’s a slight pop arrangement in the back which brings out the chorus in a very memorable way. It might not stick at first listen but it grew on me pretty fast. Good tune! The closing track “The End Of Days” have a title that makes you think of darkness and heaviness but instead we get a mix of acoustic and electric guitars and the whole tune goes into melodic rock territory with over-laying pop influences and a chorus so catchy it hurts. The intense and upbeat groove gives me the feeling of a future live-killer. A brilliant bye-bye for this time.

What the hell did I miss when I first listened to the burnt copies I got ages ago? If those albums are even remotely close in quality to this album, how could those have fallen on the way-side? Because, folks, this is a damn good album. Yes, this is hard rock, classic with big melodic rock and pop influences but it’s also heavy and pretty rough – and never ever cheesy. Not one bit. I do think of Pretty Maids pretty often when I listen to this album and since I am a huge fan of them, it’s no wonder I like this album so much. The production is stellar, just the way I like my hard rock – heavy, rough and hard but still smooth and clean enough made for a pretty easy listen. And yes, I find it a bit of a grower. Sure, I dug it the first time around but it still grows on me and it’s without a doubt an album that will travel me for a long time. And I think it’s time I gave their back catalogue a go – starting with my copies of Power Ride and Rising. Highly recommended!

8/10

Tracklist:

1. Cassandra’s Curse
2. Friday Nightmare
3. Snakes And Ladders
4. Something You Don’t Understand
5. The Seeds
6. Rollin‘
7. Medicine Man
8. I Will Rise Again
9. Open Water
10. The Race Of My Life
11. Fire In My Veins
12. The End Of Days

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