Album Review – Shihad – Beautiful Machine
“Let Me See Ya Fuckin’ Think!”
Fuck Shihad rock. And I’m sorry but I saw this coming. After releasing the most important album of their career, Love is the New Hate (LitNH) with incredible success in 2005 – an album which saw the band not only return to the name ‘Shihad’ but to their heavy ‘shit-kicking rock’n’roll’ sound – doubt was circulating whether the band would maintain this momentum into 2008 and their seventh studio record Beautiful Machine.
The doubts have been many, especially after the release of the album’s first single ‘One Will Hear the Other’, which I have heard tagged “a cheap pop song” and “not the Shihad I know”; comments reminiscent of the same bullshit remarks I have heard about their controversial ‘Fish’ album, Pacifier album, and even LitNH. Hell, even their debut Churn was criticised by pioneering Shihad fans for not having any guitar solos! But, relax now, because Shihad have been patient with an untrusting (but loyal) fan base for seven albums – including a general feeling of betrayal after the ‘Pacifier’ debacle – and Beautiful Machine demonstrates just how trustworthy Shihad are.
The album demonstrates a band more patient than before, and with a thorough understanding of rock’n’roll and their own musical direction. It demonstrates an intelligence about what their music stands for: on previous albums it has been a metaphorical stabbing of the ‘system’, now distilled into a curling of the lip and a disapproving but knowing shake of the head on Beautiful Machine. The pent up frustration that was unleashed with LitNH is well out of their system, leaving a space for them to breathe and develop once more, exploring new sonic possibilities together as the beautiful phenomenon that is Shihad.
Experience the opening track ‘One Will Hear the Other’ on forty in your bedroom or flat stereo and there is little excuse for degrading the piece as ‘cheap pop song’. And after the first few seconds of their second track ‘Rule the World’ (the closest the album slips to LinTH) any worries about a waffle album are swept away. It is true a lot of the melodies afterwards lean more towards pop-rock than we have heard since Pacifier, but the songs are too original, too political (and too fucking Shihad) to dare be labelled ‘pop’, in any degrading sense.
The differences between the tracks lie in the subtleties. Whether it be the LCD Soundsystem-esque electronic opening of ‘Beautiful Machine’, the muffled erratic guitar rhythm on ‘Count it Up’, or the slow tribal drumming and vocal delay on ‘The Bible and the Gun’, a track on which Shihad once again return to their sound of a distant, sustained cry over a heavy backdrop of rock music that has been heard on older tracks such as ‘The Saddest Song in the World’ (LitNH) and ‘Envy’ (Killjoy). The same attitude is still there, the same bite, but the sound is stripped and less insulated with frustration.
The parallels between Beautiful Machine and the band’s history cannot be overlooked. In 1996 when the band released their selftitled ‘Fish’ album – known to be the softest and most acoustic in their discography, some songs almost bordering with the folk genre – the band copped heavy abuse for not following along the path of their 1995 album Killjoy which is reputed as Shihad’s heaviest album, featuring thick distorted guitar lines. We are witnessing history repeat. After the almost murderous anger heard in LitNH, they have once again followed with a ‘slower’ more contemplative album. What we shouldn’t forget is that the ‘Fish’ album gave us the anthem ‘Home Again’ and we can – now that the heat of the moment has well and truly passed – view the album as the sublime piece of art it is, and not be so shallow as to criticise the band for pushing themselves into new ground. Nor should we do so with Beautiful Machine, unless we actually want New Zealand’s most prized achievement to end up like the Killers.
Let us not be so short-sighted this time – Shihad have earned that much. New Zealand owes so much to this band and for them to be constantly shat on for developing and changing their sound, and taking it new places and bettering New Zealand music is a crime. Fuck the Ruby Suns, if you want to hear truly New Zealand band justly pushing the boundaries of their own sound then listen to Beautiful Machine and feel your mind open. It will be remembered as one of the most ideal albums to come from this country, a keepsake of this era from a band now perfected. Fuck, Shihad rock.