I remember quite well when Swedish Melodic Rock/AOR rockers started out back in 1991 because they were kinda the talk of the town for a short while back then. For some reason, I never really paid any attention to them then, probably because it would take them an additional seven years to release their debut album Lint. However, by then Grunge had come and swiped Melodic Rock off the face of the Earth and been pushed away itself by nu-metal and other alternative crap. Classic Metal, Hard Rock, AOR, Glam, Sleaze, Melodic Rock etc. was still out of the picture though and bands either split up or struggled hard to get by – musically a horrible time for me.
But House Of Shakira – Andreas Novak (lead vocals), Mats Hallstensson and Anders Lundström (guitars), Per Schelander (bass) and Martin Larsson (drums) – never quit or gave in and the new record is their tenth one. I, however, have completely missed out on this lot, only hearing the odd tune or two, something that’s remarkable – and a bit embarrassing, to tell the truth – since they dwell in a genre I’m usually fond of. That said, with a new record out, it is as a good time as ever to finally check them out properly and find out what I have missed. Or If I have missed anything at all. Since the very few songs I have heard by the band never struck a nerve with me, I approach this album open-minded with no expectations to go with it.
The album opens with a one-minute intro called “Herd Instinct” which takes us right into latest single “One Circumstance”, an an uptempo rocker, full of pop-vibes, memorable melodies, crispy guitars and a quite slick AOR sound that still holds some crunch. While we get some glossy arrangements, it’s nice to hear that it never gets mawkish or buttery. The icing on the cake is a spot-on refrain, full of harmony vocals, that etches itself to the brain without being the least radio-flirtatious. The album’s opening could certainly have been lots and lots worse. Next up is “Not Alone”, a rhythmic and punchy fast-tracked melodic rocker that shows off with some raunchy guitar riffing that tells us that these guys probably do dig some classic Hard Rock at home. I also have thoughts of Van Halen when I hear this and that can never be wrong. It’s another really good song and after two songs, expectations starts showing on my part.
With a long, hard look back to the 80’s and some major Journey meets Def Leppard influences, the title-track takes us for a ride back to when the hair was big, clothes were colorful and radio and MTV were full of hard rock-lookers, spitting out hit after hit. This is a total AOR- track but with some crunchy guitars at front and a really juicy groove. The song also comes with a massive chorus with so many hooks it’s impossible not to get caught by it no matter if you dig the song or not. I think the song is awesome – and it should be the next single. While still in the AOR-rock file, “A Tyrant’s Tale” is heavier and darker in mood and also brings on a big groove with an eastern touch on the arrangements which brings thoughts towards Rainbow tracks such as “Stargazer” or “Gates Of Babylon”. On top we get a monster refrain, hooky and catchy and without getting into sugar-pop, it sticks immediately. Brilliant!
Leading single “Delusion” takes a step into darker and heavier territories with beefy and tough guitars and a steady and punchy rhythm. Style-wise, this is Melodic Rock and Hard Rock blended into one – and there is even a slight Metal twist in the driving guitars. With some slightly progressive touches, a memorable main-melody and a kicking refrain, the tune stands out as a winner here. “Save Yourself” is upbeat with a groovy swing, smooth yet crunchy, slick AOR-ish but also in-your-face and straight ahead. But while the song provides us with good melodies and smooth arrangements, the tune comes off as bit samey-samey. Not bad but it fails to leave a lasting impression. It’s the same with the stompy, uptempo and straight-forward rocker “Sweet Revenge”. This is AOR with a crunch that brings mid 80’s Europe to mind at times where the edges have been smoothed over with silky melodies. It’s ok, but the chorus could/should have been lots catchier.
But the guys get back on track with the rough n’ raunchy, attitude-laden Melodic Rock number “Scavenger Lizard”. Based on classic Hard Rock, the song also brings on some AOR-ish melodies, a Stadium Rock touch and an 80’s smelling chorus that’s more in-your-face catchy than radio-friendly. 80’s Kiss comes to mind here. This is a song that I would love to hear live with a cold one in my hand on a sunny festival-day. A killer track that’s perfect for a party. “Like A Fool” throws some crunchy, chugging guitars our way with some big, catchy riffs to go with it. It’s a powerful track, big on hooks and comes a cross like an Aerosmith taking a shot at Melodic Rock while looking into AOR territory. Built on a beefy and punchy rhythm section, the song sports a big live-feel complete with a super-glue refrain. Awesome stuff. Closing track “Falling Down” comes in a mid-pace, smooth and slick like AOR out on a date with late 80’s American Arena Rock – or Def Leppard meets late 80’s Whitesnake, if you will. This is a tune that would have been all over MTV back when and a perfect round up on an album like this.
After the first spin, this was a throwaway, “meh” album that gave me the same feel as those older songs gave me all those years ago but it only took a few more listens to change my mind completely – this album turned out to be way better than I thought it would be. Style-wise, House Of Shakira plays pretty smooth and slick AOR-smelling Melodic Rock but not in the stereotype, standard, thirteen-a-dozen Scandi-AOR bands that grows like weeds in your garden nowadays. House Of Shakira likes to rock, it seems so their brand of Melodic Rock/AOR is based on big, crunchy guitars and a tough and poundy rhythm section rather than keyboards, with lots of grooves and hooks – which is a big plus in my book. Much of that, I guess, is thanks to Pontus Norgren (Hammerfall, ex-Poodles, Zan Clan, Great King Rat) who has given the band a clean and smooth yet crunchy and even raw at times production. Maybe it’s time for yours truly to dive back into the HoS-discography and give those records another shot.