Track Review: The Shanks- German Heavy Metal Girl

 

TRACK REVIEW:

 

 

 

The Shanks

 

 

 

German Heavy Metal Girl

 

 

 

8.9/10.0

 

 

 

 

German Heavy Metal Girl is available via:

 

RELEASED:

11th June, 2014

 

GENRES:

Rock, Heavy Rock.

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Canadian Rock duo The Shanks follow-up the impressive Surfing The Lexicon with another sure-fire winner. Mixing vivid and humorous images with an urgent and distinct sound; the days of playing roller derbies and boxing rings may be a thing of the past- for music’s sake, let’s hope not.

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OVER the last couple of years, I have discovered…

quite a few different acts. No two have ever been alike: in terms of sound or personality, there is always something to distinguish one musician from another. Occasionally, you find a band or solo artist that has that certain U.S.P.- and makes you smile before you even start playing their music. My featured act has done just that- which is no mean feat in itself- and compelled me to delve deeper into their story: few other artists have such a peculiar and charming back story. Canada has been providing some of the most striking and hungry musicians in the world. We all know how amiable and open Canadians are: their reputation for manners, friendliness and humanitarianism is well-founded and without exaggeration. One of the things that many do not know- in terms of music an art- is how busy and ambitious they are. When I reviewed Clara Engel (last week), I was impressed and bowled-over by her tireless work rate: she has produced a string of albums and discs over the last decade- cementing her reputation as one of music’s lesser-known treasures. I am sure that more ears and minds will switch themselves onto her wonder as the months progress; yet it seems that our heroine is in love with music itself: she plays to anyone that will listen and is in awe of the business of creating and sharing. It is an attitude and attribute that is seen in other parts of the world, but for my money, Canada seems to be leading a new wave of thinking: the results and outpourings are incredible and compelling. Being based in the U.K., I am always fond to lead a patriotic charge; define and highlight the best new music (we have on offer here), yet cannot help but look to North America- in terms of sheer proficiency and frequency, their musicians seem to be showing everyone else how it is done. My featured act hail from the fair city of Toronto- an area that one would not normally associate with terrific music. This is short-sighted and remiss, as many genius music-makers have made their moves here: Candi & The Backbeat, By Divine Right, The Demics and 13 Engines are just a few examples. Historically speaking, Toronto has produced some varied and tremendous musicians: Feist, Drake, deadmau5, Broken Social Scene, Crystal Castles, The Weeknd and Death from Above 1979 call The Queen City home. Being Canada’s most populous city, Toronto is leading the country’s most eager musicians- The Shanks are amongst them. Before I divulge more, let me present them to you:

Pistolwhip von Shankenstein- (Vocals, Bass)
Colonel Crankshaft- (Drums, Vocals)

Founded in 2005, the SHANKS are the rocknroll palatinate of songwriter/vocalist/bassist Ian Donald Starkey (Pistolwhip von Shankenstein). Riding 2011’s wave of heretofore unknown success, The SHANKS CV includes distribution on Fading Ways (UK), an EXCLAIM! Magazine “Album of the Year” nomination, American tour dates, showcase bookings at Canadian Music Week and NXNE, opening slots with the Arkells…, college radio support and arena performances for pro boxing events and the Tri-City Roller Girls. ‘On a farm in the middle of nowhere the SHANKS fine-tuned their bass/drum assault. Despite the lack of members, SHANKS manage to create some big-sounding music, stacking the haunting vocals of Pistolwhip von Shankenstein over pounding drumming” EXCLAIM! Choosing to focus more on stripped-down arrangements that emphasized his fresh chordal approach to busting out steep jams on the electric bass guitar, Starkey tapped drummer John David Brumell to play on the latest SHANKS release “Skordalia”, in the process resurrecting some songs that were locked away since Starkey’s days as bassist and songwriter in the Toronto art rock outfit Nancy, Despot. The SHANKS have performed in a variety of surreal situations, including in the midst of professional fireworks exhibitions, inside sheep pens, roller derby arenas and boxing rings. In Falstaffian Pistolwhip’s macabre and delusional theatre of the absurd, dramatic suspense, the chilling danger of raw firepower and fine quality cakes served in ethnic community halls are always major ingredients in putting on a powerful and emotional rock show.”

Anyone expecting Canada’s answer to Spinal Tap, think again: these boys are a genuine and stunning article- amongst new music’s most promising articles. In the course of my traversing, acts such as Knuckle, Royal Blood and Huxtable (all British-born) have summoned up a comparable sense of grandeur and sound: the ‘heavier’ side of music is as in vogue and necessary as any other genre. When you tend to mention the words ‘Rock’ or ‘Heavy Metal’ a lot of noses turn up: there is the clichéd assumption that these forms of music are tantamount to histrionics and screeching banshees- a hell of a lot of musicianship, melody and joy comes through in these genres. Before I get down to the business of business, I will make one more point: that which relates to background and birth. Most musicians- at least the ones I have surveyed- tend to meet at college/university; play a series of local, low-profile gigs- then get that ‘break’ that sees a gilded and prosperous trajectory. I am all for this- lord knows, I wish I hadn’t missed that particular boat- though my mind is always seduced purely when something brand-new arrives: a road-to-glory that has a sense of kookisness and originality:

Choosing to focus more on stripped-down arrangements that emphasized his fresh chordal approach to busting out steep rock jams on the electric bass guitar, Starkey tapped drummer John David Brumell (who started slaying stages as a SHANK in 2010) to play on the latest SHANKS release “Skordalia” (engineered by Arturs Sadowski). Brumell (Colonel Crankshaft) began to play the drums when his parents took him in utero to see Buddy Rich at the Imperial room before he moved on to perform and/or record with Our Lady Peace, Kenny MacLean, Paul Reddick and the Sidemen, Serena Ryder, Rik Emmett, Lorded and Zeppelinesque. The SHANKS have performed in a variety of surreal situations, including in the midst of professional fireworks exhibitions, inside sheep pens, roller derby arenas and boxing rings. In Falstaffian Pistolwhip’s joyous and delusional theatre of the absurd, dramatic suspense, the chilling danger of raw firepower and fine quality cakes served in ethnic community halls are always major ingredients in putting on a powerful and emotional rock show.

The Shanks’ current machinations have developed since their early work. In terms of their quality and ambition, they have kept previous highs in tact and unwavering. Surfing The Lexicon mixed rampant- yet not too heavy- sounds with fuzzy Grunge elements. Feel the Holes is direct and to-the-point; the riffs unabated- the entire song implores you to get up and move. Cornerman’s Grunge-tinged undertones mix subjects of loneliness and woe: fuzzy and dazed sonic elements add to the sense of distress. Miss Virginia has snaking hips and a cool-as-crap vocal delivery- the entire album mixes styles and sensatioins- but retains consistency and power throughout. Rewind to Skordalia, and you can see how The Shanks have progressed and mutated. Here, Bent Rose’s twanging guitars and catchy hooks play nicely against Like A Bomb and its quiet-loud dynamics- with its  apocalyptic composition. Welcome to the Camp of the Dark Meat Fantasy (can you think of a better album title?) contains pearls such as Mother Is It Easy: complete with chugging, machine-like stomp and Queens of the Stone Age-esque elements- it is dramatic and theatrical all at once. The subject matter has changed and altered (since previous outings) yet all the cores and bedrocks are there: the mutational Rock guitars; that central vocal demanding of attention and respect- vivid and stirring lyrics that mix everything from unhappy times to strange and ne’er-do-well characters. To my mind, The Shanks have become more confident and determined in terms of their overall sound and songcraft. Fledgling efforts such as Here Come The Shanks possessed potent stunners such as When I Get Even: the energy and directness comes through strongly, yet the production values are not as strong- as they are today- and the performances not as effortless and intuitive. The days and nights of bowling lane and farm-side performances have done the boys good: they have been able to hone their skills and build on their Judas Priest mandates- German Heavy Metal Girl is one of their boldest and most direct songs to date. Few bands have such a solid consistency and air of authority in their music: the Canadian duo lace each track with that sheen of supremacy.

The Shanks’ music has a sense of borderless ubiquity: it may not be to everybody’s tastes, yet it (the music) does not subjugate or overly define itself- it is easy to get into and appreciate. For anyone ‘worried’ or scared by the group’s unique paraphernalia and designs, have no fear: there is much to appreciate and discover here. Anyone that is enamoured with Led Zeppelin and their early work will find some familiar shades. Judas Priest count as an influence for the group, so if you like the British legends, check out The Shanks- they share some of Judas Priest’s sounds, yet present their own inimitable version of events. Being a two-piece (a duo rather than a band technically), they manage to whip up a riot of sound: if you are familiar with the likes of Knuckle, Little Dove (L.A.-based duo), Huxtable and Royal Blood, then you should seek out the boys- these are some of the most exciting and promising artists around. The U.S. Punk band Dead Boys have been mooted as a reference point- as well as Alice Cooper- so anyone that prefers their music Punk-flavoured (with some gothic oeuvres), then make sure you grab a slice of The Shanks. There is humour, intelligence and passion in everything the duo create- music-lovers that look for these traits will not be disappointed at all. To my ear, there are undertones of classic Rock/Punk acts of the ’60s and ’70s in many of The Shanks’ songs: not only will they appeal to older generations, but rekindle a passion for the likes of The Sex Pistols and The Rolling Stones. Plenty of rush, raw power and urgency comes through clearly- if you prefer these qualities in your sonics, then look no further.

I hope The Shanks find their way onto Twitter very soon: great songs and bands deserve to be heard and appreciated by as large an audience as possible- the social media site is one of the best ways to spread your material. German Heavy Metal Girl demands large listening numbers; I hope that the boys get Twitter-fied very soon: there are music-lovers, bands and labels that would wholly appreciate their tracks. After a brief German coda, the electricity and stomp of the intro. gets under way- starting life as something you may hear from British Steel; before mutating into a strutting and strumming guitar kick. The intro. beautifully twists in a matter of seconds: envisaging the approach of a Metal monster, events turn into a something more Rock-based and louche. Early sentiments portray alcohol-strewn inquiry: “Time after time/I found it in the wine“- there is no poison at the bottom of the glass; just much-needed answers. Our frontman keeps his voice controlled and distinct- there are no needless screams or elongated notes- with the hallmark edges of power and conviction. The deep-voiced tones give light and weight to his spiraling tableau- Starkey has touches of Rob Halford as lets his story unfold. Having consumed truth-finding amounts of alcohol, our hero stumbles in the snow; he falls and wonders “what it is I needed to know.” Before you get sucked into a world of frostbite and intoxicated blues, the chorus comes into view: our German heroine is in our frontman’s mind and stealing his thoughts. Her face has been seen around the world- in magazines and on the streets. It is the way the song is delivered that makes it so potent and enlivening. Few bands have such an ear and intuition for pace and projectile: words change pace and forcefulness- the guitars clatter and weave like lightning bolts; the percussion is endlessly direct and persevering. Starkey (sorry, von Shankenstein) unveils strange and wonderful scenes. The song’s heroine seems to be putting him in a flutter: causing him to question his fashion choices and state of mind, he is wrapped up in an odd spell. The Heavy-Metal girl is “waiting for this dude to die/Waiting for the cuckoo clock to jive“- in her vain and material world, she is calling the shots. Whatever our hero tries to do, he cannot ignore his German muse: not sure where their show will take them; it is going to be taken “around the world.” The song provides a touching insight into a mismatched- although strangely natural- pairing: the older Rock frontman and the hypnotic- one would imagine, tattooed and pierced- Metal aficionado. Everything in the song has its tongue firmly lodged in its cheek- including the music video, which I shall mention at the end- and makes sure that a sense of humour runs through proceedings. The closing moments of the song are dedicated to a gradual decline: the effects of the bond are starting to take their toll as our frontman becomes enraptured and overwhelmed. By the final notes, you can almost sense a grin come through: in spite of all of the events that have unfolded, he is better for the experience- the Metal-loving German has cast her spell.

A lot of new fans of The Shanks will be listening to this song- as their first taste of the band. It is one of my first impressions from the Canadian duo, and left me impressed and satisfied- with a sly smile on the face as well. There are some edges of Judas Priest’s British Steel/early-’80s creations: that same infectious pairing of humour and hardness come through. Those that find Judas Priest a little too heavy-going or frightening will want to listen to The Shanks: they have essences of the Birmingham band’s power but with little of the blood-curdling screams and satanic prophesies. Von Shankenstein and Crankshaft are perfect partners-in-crime: they blend supremely throughout and pull off a tight and controlled performance. There are no wasted or erratic notes; no spluttering and aimless drum fills: everything in the song is measured and distilled for maximum effect. Crankshaft’s drum skills are to be commended: he has the flair of Scott Travis and Dave Grohl, but manages to inject his own style and authority. Our frontman’s voice and guitar provide lashings of colour and evocative edges. Vocal delineations and passages are effectively and splendidly projected- providing sing along charm and deeper, darker power. The production on the song is sharp and inspired: each element contains clarity and concision, thus affording the listener a more pleasurable listening experience. Everything is mixed seamlessly and fastidiously to allow the song’s full potential to blossom- one of my biggest complaints is when songs are produced with little regard for these factors. The lyrics inspire colourful scenes and a mixture of emotions: from unusual date nights to rebelliousness; drunken stumble and deep thoughts mingle alongside one another. You come away from the song feeling a little bit better about things: it is a cool and mesmeric slice of Rock that stands out from most of what is being produced today. Most bands go for sex or broken love: the stories and plotlines tend to stick to predictable themes and the compositions tend to be un-adventurous. The Shanks employ facets of ’80s Metal and modern-day Rock; stir it in their bubbling band pot and let the entrancing vapours do their work. It is a brilliant track, yet I would advise investigating the duo’s back catalogue: German Heavy Metal Girl has few sound-alikes across their past work, so it is a good idea to get the fuller picture. The duo’s last album was released last year, so one would imagine the foundations of a new collection are in the offing- based on the evidence here, it will be a fascinating and curious collection. When listening to the song, I would advise you watch the music video- banned in Turkey it has caused slight controversy. Everything in the video is light-hearted and comical: political images and wartime memorabilia can be seen alongside old German cars- nothing from the video amounts to anything more than good-natured fun. For all of those outside of Turkey, take a look at the video and its scenery; listen to the song and its messages- and initiate yourself to the joys of The Shanks.

It is at this stage that I prophesize the future (of the particular act) and make my predictions: today is going to be a rather interesting case. Having played in farms and back-alley locales, I hope that the duo continue to rock these haunts: it would be a shame if The Shanks turned their backs on these places. Being omnists, von Shankenstein and Crankshaft are determined to play anywhere humanly possible: be it a huge venue or children’s party, the boys want to bring their brand of music to the people. German Heavy Metal Girl is a heady and energised slice of Rock that burrows into your brain, and compels you to listen again (and again). It is a venerable cut that could point at future promise: Surfing The Lexicon is their latest step and has impressed and been outstanding critics and fans. Despite their latest song’s video being banned in Turkey, it is being upheld and shared in less sensitive parts of the globe- and will see demand for more music very soon. Their current L.P. is a confident and busy collection of tracks: potency, heavy-hearted pummel and energy makes every track stand out- the same quality that albums such as Skordalia and The Dark Richard Show possessed. In the next couple of months, the duo play Canada and the U.S.: some unique venues in Ontario and New York are going to witness The Shanks in the flesh. I hope that the boys make plans to come to the U.K.: being the home of Judas Priest, fans of the band (as well as lovers of Punk-Rock) will jump at the chance to catch the Canadians. Having investigated each of their albums, it seems that their confidence levels and ambitions grow release to release- their palette more colourful and the sounds stronger. I urge you- if you are a fan of the duo’s kin or not- to check out their body of work: it is filled with plenty of anthemics, pure rush and good ol’-fashion kicks- as well as of-the-minute urgency and rich musical history. Starkey is one of the busiest bodies in music, and it would not be far-fetched to see plans taking shape for a forthcoming release- whether it is an E.P. or album, you get the impression that the Shanks boys will be thinking ahead. New music is going all sorts of places at the moment; so many different kinds of acts are coming through- never have we had so much choice available. Heavy sounds seem to resonate with critical ears: the ascendancy of the likes of Royal Blood have not only inspired legions of new bands, but converted many fans to the wonders of Rock/Heavy Metal. There is something about the form of music that hits people hard- there is primacy and passion to be found. From the days of Zeppelin through to the current offering of Jack White, you cannot beat music that makes the blood run hot. I hope that a method is discovered whereby artists such as The Shanks (and country-mate Clara Engel) make their voices known in the wider realm. I am fortunate enough to have acts come to me- to get their music reviewed- but I worry that a lot are missing out on something different and worthy: many great bands and newcomers have to work too hard to get fans and bodies into their camps. Canadian acts such as Feist and Broken Social Scene have managed to get their artistry recognised on a worldwide scale: they have transitioned into the mainstream and are going from strength-to-strength. It is always difficult and exhausting trying to make your way through the battlefield of new music: only those that are bravest and hard-fighting come away victorious. The Shanks have made some promising and firm first steps: their output is consistent and consistently engaging. They have been setting tongues wagging throughout North America, and it seems that parts of Europe are latching onto their promise- I hope that the rest of the world takes them to heart. German Heavy Metal Girl is where they are right now: a bold and assured slice of Rock that has a unique identity from a distinct twosome. Starkey’s ambitious outfit will be playing and plying across their native land- from farms and bars to restaurants, they are on a mission. If you live on a remote wasteland in the Middle East- with a good Internet connection apparently- they could well pay you a visit. Given where they have played before, and the love they have for music…

IT may well happen.

 

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Follow The Shanks:

 

Official:

http://theshanks.ca/

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/shanksmusic

BandCamp:

http://herecometheshanks.bandcamp.com/

MySpace:

https://myspace.com/herecometheshanks

YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/user/vonshankenstein

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The Shanks’ music can be accessed via:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/shanksmusic/app_204974879526524

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Tour dates available through:

Shows

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The Shanks’ videos are available at:

Videos

 

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