*Shels emerged from the break-up of a band called Mahumodo in 2003 - the split also created British post-hardcore outfit Devil Sold His Soul whose excellent 'Blessed & Cursed' album we reviewed last year. *Shels is a somewhat different undertaking, judging by this, their second full-length album.
Formed by Mahumodo vocalist Mehdi Safa and drummer Tom Harriman, they have produced an album of sweeping soundscapes somewhere between And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead... and Ennio Morricone, whose trumpet and choral techniques seem to be influential here.
The hardcore edge is still there, from time to time, but the album has more than a hint of film score about it – I guess it is intended to be appreciated as a single, albeit epic, piece. There are multiple and quite long silences at the end of many of the tracks and thematically the songs are linked by title and recurrent musical motifs. So you could say it walks a fine line between ambition and pretention but I think it mostly stays on the right side of the line.
Opening track 'Journey To The Plains' is a strong statement and I particularly like the hardcore vocals buried deep in the mix – I wish they could be used more often than the few tracks they feature on – which give strength and bite to the music. In general I prefer the heavier, more guitar driven moments on tracks like 'Plains Of The Purple Buffalo (Part 2)' and 'Crown Of Eagle Feathers' but I also like the quieter, chorale-driven songs too, with 'Butterflies On Luci’s Way' another highlight.
Much of what I have admired this year is music that dares to be different and this album certainly fits that category. Whilst there are still plenty of melodic hooks and memorable passages across the 'Plains Of The Purple Buffalo', the scope of what is attempted ignores current convention.
It is ambitious and contrary – with great swathes of slow moving instrumental layers underpinned by a very solid drumming performance. The loose collection of collaborators that the two main protagonists in the band gather about them certainly gives them freedom to explore different styles without losing coherence.
Maybe it doesn’t succeed 100% of the time, but alongside bands such as The Mars Volta, Cult Of Luna and the aforementioned Trail Of Dead..., *Shels have clearly set themselves the task of redefining what constitutes Rock Music. And for that I salute them.
STREAM: *shels - Plains of the Purple Buffalo - part 2
STREAM: *shels - Journey to the Plains
'Plains Of The Purple Buffalo' is available to purchase at amazon.co.uk, iTunes etc.