At the minute, it seems like every band who openly admits to being influenced by the ‘70s needs to be approached with the utmost caution. Call it a knee-jerk reaction following how emphatically Greta Van Fleet have proven that the listening public will swallow any old slurry as long as it’s familiar to them, but even long before them, rock bands have defaulted to old-school blues-rock crutches as a way to effectively guarantee a degree of success. But, for as much as it may appear that the Stockholm syndrome has fully set in, there’s a lot to be hopeful about with The Shrine. For one, there’s a degree of variation in their approach, and when ZZ Top and Black Sabbath come in place of Led Zeppelin, that feels a bit fresher, but the general vibe surrounding them is one of a trashier, more directly hedonistic brand of rock, rather than the mere acknowledgement that it sort of exists in a roundabout way, as has been the case with so many. It gives Cruel World the air of something that could be a lot easier to get behind, even if that almost exclusively rests on The Shrine’s chances of executing their vision in a more attention-grabbing way.
Granted, it’s not like The Shrine are really pushing the boat out when it comes to this sound – nor are they really expected to – but Cruel World is definitely a lot better than any of retro-rock’s slow, monotonous upper tier, simply through the fact that this is a band who clearly place stock in energy and firepower. It’d be hard to isolate anything else that really sticks, mind, and while they do try and expand these four tracks to have more of a place in the modern rock landscape, at the end of the day, the classic rock execution is the only thing that truly sticks the landing. And that’s totally fine; The Shrine clearly know how to make the most of their influences in a way that so many don’t, and in as brief a context as this, that’s more than enough to make for an entertaining listen.
And yes, that does depend on individual preferences for rock as brazen in its throwback nature as this is, but the overall pace and leather-clad sneer doesn’t feel nearly as dated as many in this bracket often do. It certainly helps that the guitar tone across the board has a very scuzzy presence, whether baked into the sizzling stoner-rock grooves of the title track or pushing forward with a chugging gallop on Dance On A Razor’s Edge. There’s a fantastic heat to the production that has the scope that a band like this needs, but also doesn’t mask the dirt and rough edges that give a track like She Is Never its more rugged, ramshackle vibe. It certainly doesn’t feel as compromised as a lot of retro-rock can, even if Josh Landau’s vocals can lean a bit too heavily on lo-fi garage-rock filters that aren’t necessarily bad, but they somewhat remove the unshakable presence that everything else here has. The writing falls into a similar boat, and while it’s commendable that The Shrine are looking towards a socially conscious side that these sort of throwback bands tend to steer well clear of, the title track and The Taste Of Blood don’t really offer much deeper commentary beyond the strings of imagery and ideas lacking any further personality that could make them feel anything more than impossibly commonplace. It’s not as if music like this desperately needs to go that extra mile, but even if The Shrine can reasonably succeed on instrumental force alone, it can still be disappointing to see what could’ve potentially taken them over the top feel so undercooked.
But on the whole, where The Shrine are inevitably going to be stacked against other revival-rock bands, they’ve got the edge thanks to generally sounding a lot more raw and organic than so many of their peers. Cruel World is far away from pushing any sort of boundaries, but it’s interesting to see just how much a bit more gumption can bring to the table, and The Shrine are doing a pretty great job on that front. Perhaps things still need to be tightened or redrafted here and there, but this is essentially as solid as starting blocks come for the next phase in their career, and with regards to the scene they’re in, hopefully their efforts will see them reap the benefits.
For fans of: Black Sabbath, Queens Of The Stone Age, Kyuss
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Cruel World’ by The Shrine is released on 3rd May.