(This is Andy Synn‘s review of the third album by the Russian band Shokran, which was released in February of this year.)
There are a couple of reasons I selected the third album from Russian quartet Shokran as my second review of the week.
Firstly, switching out the grimness and grime of Shadow Tentacles in favour of the polished, melodically-stylised sounds of Ethereal makes for some welcome contrast, both for me and (hopefully) for the reader, and forces me to switch up my writing a little in a way that that doesn’t just involve googling additional synonyms for “dark” and “brooding”.
Secondly, it’s been a while since I threw a major curveball at the site, and the amount of gleaming, hyper-emotive clean-sung melody scattered liberally across the length and breadth of this record certainly makes it a bit different in that regard!
Now, I’m fully aware that a not-insignificant cross-section of our audience have been conditioned to instantly reject anything with even a hint of “djent” to it, and I understand why.
After all, for a genre/style which promised so much, it descended into self-parody far more quickly than even the most cynical of us expected, and barely even a year after it broke into the public consciousness had become swamped with innumerable copycats and sound-alikes, all of whom talked a big game about the “progressive” pretensions, but who ultimately just stuck rigidly to the same uber-formulaic format as everyone else.
But I’m here to tell you that the latest album by Shokran, released way back in February, but only recently coming to my attention, is different.
Oh, sure, the bombastic guitars still have a certain electric, elasticated “twang”, and the effervescent clean vocals of singer Andrew Ivashchenko have a notably poppy tinge to them, but the music itself is undeniably proggier and more ambitious than the majority of the band’s peers, while still being just as energetic and infectious, and the songs in general are a highly textured, multi-layered marvel of metallic creativity and spellbinding melody that err closer to Persefone than they do to Periphery.
The lead-work in particular is absolutely impeccable, equally capable of delivering intricate shreddery and emotive melody as the song/situation requires, and the interweaving of technical, technicolour fretwork and cascading keys/synths frequently gives Ethereal an almost Dream Theater-like quality, while the prominent focus on Ivashchenko’s urgent, expressive singing style over his harsher vocals (which are used primarily to add power to, or punctuate, key moments) ensures that his voice is treated more like the fully-developed instrument which it is, rather than as a cheap gimmick to be employed whenever the band need a catchy chorus.
Early highlights include punchy, semi-symphonic opener “Unbodied”, the hard-driving, hook-filled and harmony-laden “Nature of the Paradox”, and the unexpectedly thrashy Tech-Prog of “Conquerors” (one of several songs where the vocals split their time pretty evenly between aggressive and emotive).
And while there’s at least one major misstep along the way (the mawkish pseudo-balladry of “Ascention” falls prey to literally every cliché in the book, and its inclusion so early in the album’s running order temporarily kills its momentum dead), the back-half of the record is, if anything, even stronger, with the deceptively simple, yet intricately arranged, strains of “Golden Pendant” the shamelessly OTT title-track, and the thrillingly dynamic (not to mention, in places, surprisingly aggressive) “Faces Behind the Stars”, providing some of the most captivating and cathartic moments of the band’s career, all building towards the climactic, proggy powerhouse of “”Destiny Crucified”, which seals the deal in scintillating style.
Fans of The Human Abstract, Ne Obliviscaris, or even Soilwork (or any of the other bands mentioned in this review) would do well to check this album out asap.