House of Shakira’s ninth album ‘Radiocarbon’ comes some twenty two years after their debut. This means this lesser known band’s career has effectively been longer than some of the classic melodic rock/AOR acts of the 80s heyday. On the basis of ‘Radiocarbon’, they still love what they do…and if you’re a fan of big melodic riffs with a Swedish bent, chances are you will too. Although the album appears to have been mastered far too loudly – a somewhat common complaint in this digital age – the songs are, by and large, terrific. That’s enough to make the album stand among HoS’s best.
The album wastes no time in presenting the band’s crunchier side as ‘One Circumstance’ delivers a huge riff – one that captures their partly heavy but very melodic sound in a near flawless way. Tapping into more of an AOR slant, the chorus has some of the biggest harmony vocals ever, while the lead guitar work shows off a suitable amount of string bending brilliance. Frontman Andreas Novak’s lead vocal comes with a heavy accent but his general presence and delivery are great throughout. Filling three and a half minutes with sounds that come close to perfect 80s hard rock, this is a fine start, but once a nod to Van Halen appears just before the fade, there’s certainly a feeling that ‘Radiocarbon’ is also a fun album. Opting for something a little faster, ‘Not Alone’ compliments some big drums with a classic riff. Taking a general approach that sounds like a Scandinavian Van Halen, there’s much to enjoy here. It’s another song that shows off lead guitarist Mats Hallstensson’s talents as he weaves tough riffs in and out of those dominating drums, before filling the instrumental break with some brilliant multi-layed sounds. It’s a pity that his best efforts are partly lost beneath a world of TV news samples, but it’s a minor criticism. In a slightly different style, ‘Delusion’ is fine melodic metal with a confident vocal wrapping itself around a finely crafted riff and ‘Sweet Revenge’ is a classic hard rocker where guitarists Mats Hallstensson and Anders Lundstrom trade in a little of their usual melodic edge for something with a heavier chug. The heaviest edges are counterbalanced by a big chorus full of Europe and Def Leppard inspired vocals and there’s some absolutely stellar lead guitar playing awaiting discovery, so in many ways, there’s enough here to place it among the band’s classic works. Both of these are great examples of the band’s melodic, yet crunchy style.
Even better is the bizarrely named ‘Scavenger Lizard’, a throwback to classic hard rock where, as before, Novak is in good voice throughout. He actually sounds like he’s having fun on a track that mixes a few HoS traits with a smidgeon of early Roxy Blue and a very cheeky melody that’s not a million miles from AC/DC’s ‘Shoot To Thrill’, while ‘Like A Fool’ mixes a few heavy riffs with some pumping bass work (courtesy of Per Schelander), before dropping a chorus that isn’t afraid to throw something a little poppier into the mix. To finish, the main riff is given a little more of an eastern flair, which is celebrated further by Hallstenson’s chosen lead tones. It’s a brilliant hard rocker – without question. If you’re a fan of the band, this won’t be anything new to fill your ears, but it’s yet another reminder of why (and how) the Swedes are true champions when it comes to this kind of melodic rock.
All of those tracks would make this album a great addition to your collections, but ‘Radiocarbon’ has a pair of even better numbers up its sleeve. The title track is an instant highlight. Not just in that it presents the band in their most melodic guise on an arrangement that’s absolutely loaded with big hooks and even bigger harmonies, but also in the way it totally celebrates a melodic rock past. The basic melody begins like something from Danger Danger’s debut record (a work that Ted Poley never bettered), but quickly springs off in a different directions to include a few twin leads and a slightly punchier riff. The track then totally outdoes itself by cheekily borrowing lyrics from Def Leppard, Journey and others without even attempting to disguise that fact, making it very much a tongue in cheek affair. If you love the style, you’ll love this – and with the band not taking themselves entirely seriously, this should raise a wry smile. A track more geared towards the melodic metal fan than the AOR buff, ‘A Tyrant’s Tale’ is another standout as the band tap into a melodic but heavy hitter with an eastern flavour. Traces of Rainbow‘s ‘Stargazer’ rub shoulders with a few of the more theatrical bits of the Jorn back cat, and while it’s not especially anything new, HoS play through with grit and conviction. Andreas puts in yet another strong vocal performance, as he takes all of the bombastic lyrics in his stride. Musically, there’s also a lot to like as a twin lead break provides a great interlude, as does a really heavy riff with a descending scale played in a semi-grungy style.
With so many albums already under their collective belt, you’d sort of expect House of Shakira to sound a little tired, or perhaps going through the motions by this point. Quite the opposite applies; on ‘Radiocarbon’, these guys show no signs of weakness – or even any tendencies of “phoning it in”. This is a really fun album for fans and first time listeners alike. There’s more energy within these eleven tracks (or ten songs and an intro) than so many of their peers would muster in approximately four times as much material. With big melodies, bigger hooks, some fine playing and a more than a dash of Swedish brilliance, ‘Radiocarbon’ almost has it all. For fans of the style, this is one not to be missed.