I have to ask the question: How has it taken me 17 years to find out that these guys exist? Because that’s been the most confusing and annoying aspect of having this absolute cracker of an album in my hot little hands. I feel like I’ve been cheated. I feel ripped off.
Shaman’s Harvest have been around for 20 years. They formed in Jefferson City, Missouri, back in 1996. Red Hands Black Deeds is their sixth studio album and will be released on July 28th. I have to admit to you that this review has taken much longer than expected. It’s taken weeks because every time I’ve hit play with the intention of writing, I’ve just wanted to listen and nothing else. And because I’m not a musician or an experienced music journo, I can’t comment a great deal about the composition of each song or the riffs and hooks and whatever else, or producer influences, and I obviously can’t make comparisons with earlier releases because life is cruel, and this is my first Shaman’s Harvest experience.
But I can tell you that this is really good. Actually, it’s incredible. I can also tell you a few reasons why you’re going to love Red Hands Black Deeds and how it’s going to reach out to a younger audience, and let’s be honest, when you’ve been around for a couple of decades and you can still appeal to the young ones – you’re definitely doing something right!
The first thing I thought of when I listened to the album was the diversity of the tracks. No two songs are even remotely similar – they all feel like they have their own personality, backstory, influence and heartbeat. It’s an album of stories. It’s also an album of honesty, raw emotion and freedom of expression. Lead singer Nathan Hunt has spoken about the “organic” characteristics of the album and it’s definitely a vibe that stands out. Every single moment, sound and lyric feels alive. And god it’s nice to feel something, especially when we’re surrounded by so much soullessness – musically and in general.
The writing of the album started during the US presidential election and there are social and political ideas throughout the album. Guitarist Josh Hamler has talked about this influence. “The tension in the record kind of speaks for itself. There’s a dark anxiety, tension-filled feeling that reflects what’s going on in the world”. This extends way beyond the US presidential election and into society and the world we all live in and I think it’s something that will really appeal to young people. And if it doesn’t, it should.
The album’s first single “The Come Up” is an honest and powerful representation of issues young people face every single day. It delves into struggles with anxiety, depression and society’s demand for perfection. “There’s so much negativity on social media today – a lot of people struggling with real issues…” The song is also an acknowledgement of Nathan Hunt’s own battle with depression. “It’s therapeutic for myself,” he says. “It’s just about sometimes when you just can’t change shit, you got to realise you can’t mould everything in your life and you kind of just have to roll with the punches”. Lead singer Nathan Hunt actually battled throat cancer in 2014 which could have marked the end of his career and derailed the band, but he didn’t allow that to happen. He just kicked it’s ass instead. What better message for young people in today’s world?
I also want to talk about influences, because indirectly or directly intended, I experienced an amazing journey when listening to the album. I think it’s easy and even a little bit lazy, to point out similarities with other rock or post-grunge acts. Shaman’s Harvest have taken it to the next level in terms of experimenting with alternative sounds, technology and instruments and they’ve used everything on offer to create something special and unique. I’m a music lover, as opposed to a music expert, and I truly loved being able to find unexpected little spins throughout the album.
The title track “Red Hands Black Deeds” is haunting and reminds me of the incredible ability and vocal intensity of Chris Cornell, and I love Shaman’s Harvest for it. Throughout the album, I had beautiful flashes of Metallica, The Police, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Muse, Linkin Park, KISS and god, there’s even a smooth Lenny Kravitz vibe going on. All you have to do is turn it up loud and listen carefully – you’ll hear it.
This is an album of pure truth. Hunt sums it up perfectly. “When you step back, you see we’re all just humans. That’s the longer view. It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, we all just want love and to be understood”. And that’s the truth for all of us.
Red Hands Black Deeds will be released and available on the 28th July and I’ll be talking to Shaman’s Harvest this week about the release. You’ll be able to hear it all on the Freak Show – 8pm Thursdays on OKR FM.
Edited: Just an update – here’s my interview with lead singer Nate Hunt on the eve of the release of Red Hands Black Deeds. Enjoy!