Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shiva - Firedance (1982)

Every now and then you make a connection with some early piece of aural obscurity, something you've long toiled over but never quite molted with. Suddenly, the realization of genius becomes so clear, as if it were staring at you through a mirror all along. Firedance is one of situations. Far ahead of its time, and almost unheard of by anyone outside the diminishing circle of NWOBHM collectors and old metal explorers. One can only marvel that Shiva were not a raging success. After all, they struck at a time when the waters were right for progressive rock and metal, with bands like Rush and Yes topping the charts and British metal and hard rock exploding into the next big thing.

Shiva possessed both of these characteristics. One might even imagine them the perfect coupling of Rush and the American band Riot, with superb songwriting skills that put the majority of their NWOBHM peers to complete shame. But perhaps this band was just too smart for the period in which it arrived, and tragically resigned to the status of a non-entity, while bands like Judas Priest, Def Leppard and Iron Maiden would soar past them. The tragedy is that they probably gave up too soon. A few more albums like Firedance and it would have been nearly impossible for anyone to ignore them, and with progressive metal labels springing up in the 90s like Inside Out, they would have undoubtedly found a reliable home. But all we have to remember them by are a few demos, a compilation of unreleased material, and this one near masterpiece of a debut album.

was a power trio by definition, and by that I mean each of the members possessed enormous talent at his given instrument. Chris Logan was a skilled drummer, but never over indulgent here, and Andy Skuse has a beautiful, popping bass tone that never rolls over to play dead for the guitar. Speaking of the six-strings, the true center of the band must be John Hall, who performed both the vocals and guitars, and has quite a good run with each. His tones were sweet, clear and smooth, characteristic of many peers but not so sharp or piercing as a Kevin Heybourne (from fellow NWOBHM power trio Angel Witch). No, he reminds me quite a lot of Geddy Lee from the 70s Rush recordings, and his selection of notes is always teeming with life, perfectly married to the cycle of classic metal riffing and bluesy leads that lie beneath. The result is an album, Firedance, which would appeal far beyond the core metal fan of the day, to the lover of blues, progressive rock and perhaps even folk rock. Fly By Night meets Fire Down Under? Sign me up.

Shiva never forget that they're a metal band first and foremost, and tracks like "How Can I?" and the amazing "Wild Machine" display a strength in creative, accessible riffing that moves beyond some mere mutation of Judas Priest, Sabbath and Deep Purple. Not the sinister groove that hangs at the end of the verse of "Wild Machine", before a robotic voice heralds a most glorious 'silent chorus' riff. "Borderline" shows a little more of a roadster spin, as if it were Shiva's take on something like "Living After Midnight". The vocals are superb, and they'd be alluring enough without the excellent guitars. But you are gifted with both. "Stranger Lands" journeys further into the realm of progressive rock, with a carousel of Skuse's wonderful lines. "Angel of Mons" is drifting and desperate, and "User" burns with the heat of molten, classic metal. The band's namesake "Shiva" is another impressive offering, with a crazy synthesizer break near the finale that immediately lifts the imagination above some creative percussion.

The band accomplishes all of this without the inflated, excess song structures that many prog rockers were often guilty of. This is no Tales from Topographical Oceans, it's constantly aware of its status as a hard, driving rock record, but one of a positive life affirmation more than morose infatuation. It's not so mystic as to become psychedelic, but its sure to deliver the goods that a Rush fan demands from anything that band carved out in their initial decade of output. Well worth tracking down if you fancy other prog/NWOBHM crossover acts like Saracen or Budgie, and though it nears 30 years in age, its highly enduring.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

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