Sometimes you wait so long for something that when it arrives you’d either forgotten you were even waiting for it, or it is such a massive disappointment that the whole thing feels like a massive waste of time. Well I’ve been waiting a long time for a new album from Mexico’s Has A Shadow, if three years can be considered such. Back in 2014 the band brought out ‘Sky Is Hell Black’ (read my original review here), a set of songs that were dark and brooding but also weirdly fresh, and still sound so today. That album made my ‘best of‘ list in 2014, and I hoped for a quick follow up, and now finally it has arrived…and it’s proper good!
I got an inkling that it might be having realised an ambition of seeing the band live at last year’s Liverpool PsychFest, and thought that they were really good, with the new tracks fitting in well with the ‘Sky Is Hell Black’ material. That said I also think that in the time since that debut my musical tastes have perhaps shifted away from the song-based material that Has A Shadow play; I seem to have moved towards a preference for more strung out improvised music. As such, probably unfairly, the band were going to have to produce something really good to both meet my expectations, and cater to my pickiness.
I have to admit when opening track, ‘Sorrow’ initially fired up I was underwhelmed, but then as soon as the vocal clicked in I remembered why I like this band so much. The mix of styles that they have absorbed is evident from this point onwards, and reproduced in a seamless and balanced way. As such there is a really satisfying complexity to this track, and the album more generally; a wall of sound that has so many aspects to it it takes many listens to tease them all out.
So that by time the band kick into second track, ‘Lord of the Flies’, I’m already won over and put aside any pre-conceptions I might have developed, Although slower and less dense, this is a track that grabs you at a more emotional level with the sort of gothic undertone that had me reaching for my Sisters of Mercy back catalogue.
‘The Flesh’ sounds like the organ player from Wooden Shjips jamming with Bauhaus in a way that gives a lightness to what otherwise is a desolate soundtrack, while ‘Attack of the Junkie’ is positively jaunty by comparison showing that Has A Shadow are also capable of rocking out, in their own dark and sultry manner. ‘Cul De Sac’ continues the more upbeat move with more space between the instruments. It’s still intense in there by the sound is not quite as stifling, with the vocal in particular given room to manoeuvre. This stops the album, here at the halfway stage, from becoming to overwhelming.
As the title may suggest, things start heading back into the abyss with ‘Vampire Kiss’, a relatively simple song which bears the hallmark of many a goth/ shoegaze song, while also sounding fresh and listenable. This is followed by ‘Horror Will Grow’ with its almost catchy organ riff, and Peter Hook bassline giving the track and early New Order feel, initially at least, before going off into Jesus and Mary Chain territory.
‘Not Even Human’ is the shortest and heaviest track here. Back comes the massively dense wall of sound and things get pretty lo-fi here. There’s a real fuzzy merging of sounds, at least on the mp3 copy I have, although the vinyl will probably reveal more here. The track drives along with some ‘out there’ electronics giving it an other worldly feel, would love to see this one banged out live.
Last up is ‘World Sensation’ which is the most abstract of the tracks on offer here. The band really breaks up the rhythm and goes for it with only the merest glimpse of melody coming to the surface every now and again. Given my aforementioned shift in taste this is probably the track that matched my current listening matter but, really, I think the whole album is well worth the wait.
I some ways this is an album of my musical past. It references many of the bands who I have really rated, from Joy Division through the Sisters of Mercy and Jesus and Mary Chain, to the likes of Suicide. But I don’t like this album for nostalgic reasons, I like it because is it somehow a fresh distillation of this sounds with a sort of contemporary ‘psych’ sensibility (and don’t even ask me to put into words what I mean by that) that both brings back those sounds of 1979 and the rest of the 80s, yet expresses them in a way that speaks to me today. This isn’t a strung-out, spaced-out, rawked-out monster of a double album comprising 3 tracks, this is a set of songs that mostly come in at around four minutes, and as such Has A Shadow have reminded me of what I might have been missing.
‘Sorrow Tomorrow’ is available now from Fuzz Club Records.