Wednesday 10 June 2020

Shok Paris - Full Metal Jacket (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 10 Jun 2020
Sites: Facebook | Metal Archives | Official Website

Here's yet another band returning from completely out of the blue, cementing 2020 as following in the footsteps of 2019 for surprising resurrections. The old band with new life this time are Shok Paris, who I remember from a 1987 album called Steel and Starlight, though not only for the music; it featured a highly memorable album cover. That was their second eighties album of three and this is album four, because the only studio album they've released since 1989 was a reissue of Steel and Starlight with its heavier original mix.

I actually listened to this back earlier in the year because it was due out at the beginning of February but it got delayed, so I'm returning to it now. My thoughts in July are pretty much what they were in January, namely that I like this but took a while to get used to it, because of the vocals; that it has every bit of the life and energy that a first album in 31 years ought to have; and that it gets better as it moves along.

Maybe Shok Paris never went away but merely hopped through a portal in time from 1987, because the title does indeed refer to the Stanley Kubrick movie. There's an intro called The Creed, which, if you've seen the movie, is what you think it is, merely recreated musically rather than sampled. That leads into the title track, which is decent anthemic hard and heavy stuff that's a throwback to the band's heyday without ever sounding like they don't mean it just as much today.

I should introduce the band, who are led by original guitarist Ken Erb, who co-founded Shok Paris back in 1982 and has been them throughout, except for the two decade gap that ended with reformation in 2009. The other musicians joined in 2010, after the other former members promptly soured on the idea of getting the band back together again. Ed Stephens is the name, because I think he's played bass in every rock band in Cleveland since the James Gang. Well, except Nine Inch Nails. The reliable drummer is Donovan Kenaga and the second guitarist who weaves solos so well with Erb on songs like Fall from Grace is John Korzekwa.

That leaves vocalist Vic Hix, who joined in 1984 and, like Erb, has remained with the band throughout. Unlike Erb, he did release other music during that two decade hiatus, putting out some albums with Philly-based Aftershok. He's the hardest aspect of this album to get used to, though I did get there. He has old school air raid siren vocals with an odd accent and what sounds like a frequent difficulty in catching breath. He has a distinctive enuncation, a trademark that gets overt on These Eyes with its Crimson Glory vibe.

The first half of the album is decent stuff, songs like Nature of the Beast, Metal on Metal and Brothers in Arms enjoyable if never outstanding. It's at the halfway mark that things start to really reach full gear, initially with Black Boots and especially with Hell Day, which reminds of the late eighties when heavy metal bands had sped up in response to the speed metal bands and often found a really cool balance point between power and speed.

I like the second half in general more than the first but the other gem is a power shanty called Symphony of the Sea. The wild vocals of Vic Hix keep it away from pirate metal bands like Alestorm but the melodies flow in much the same way. After that is only the closer, Up the Hammers, which may not mean the same thing in Ohio that it does to Steve Harris. With Stephen's bass on the gallop during the opening, I presume it's a knowing nod to Iron Maiden, for whom 7:14 wouldn't seem particularly long. Hail to the gods, indeed.

This is a decent album, not the impossible to miss comeback album the band's members might have hoped it would be but a very palatable return that makes me look forward to the next one. The current line-up has been stable now for a decade, even with this being its first release, so I presume they're both getting on as a band and getting a good response from the Cleveland audience which is not a minor one. Let's see where they go from here!

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