Lion Shepherd's name came to my attention when I attended a Riverside concert last year (see review), when this Polish band was the first opener. My first acquaintance with this band was a very positive one, as I was totally impressed by the vocals and the intensity of the performance that night. Now a few months later Lion Shepherd's album Hiraeth ended up on my desk for a review, closing the circle. Basically this Polish band only exists of two musicians. One is vocalist Kamil Haidar, who has been active in the Polish rock scene for quite a while now, but also travelled the world to work with other musicians. The second musician is multi-instrumentalist Mateusz Owczarek, who is considered to be one of the better young guitarists. Despite Mateausz's young age, he has toured throughout Europe and played with many Polish stars. On the album, bass was played by Wojciech Ruckinski and drums by Slawek Berny, both players were not present at the show I attended.
Hiraeth stands for “Longing for home” and is taken from the Welsh language. Due to the heavy middle eastern orientated music on the album and Haidar's personal background, it is a well-chosen title. Those middle eastern influences immediately are noticed in the album's opener Fly On, a strong composition that has some similarities with the Page Plant album No Quarter, creating a perfect balance between the two worlds. As the album continues, we get to listen to Lights Out where the influences are shifted towards the lies of Anathema. Strong acoustic guitars are accompanied by a nice Hammond organ and finished off with the smooth voice of Haidar and a nice acoustic guitar solo. After these two impressive openers, the guitars are cranked up to fuse the oriental element with powerful parts and vocal lines that tend to go towards Riverside's Mariusz Duda's style. Brave New World sees a strong combination that finally grows into a recognizable, distinguished style of their own. Musix Box Ballerina follows the same pattern as the previous song, combining electrifying parts with softer acoustic guitars, topping it off with an excellent harmonica solo. I'm Open focuses on strong vocals and the minimalistic use of instruments including a fine bass part and a smooth electric solo. With Past In The Mirror, the vocal style of Duda returns and is combined with Mongolian Throat singing. This more powerful composition just asks for more, haunting vocals. The returning Hammond organ and intense guitar parts absolutely do the trick for me. Wander returns to the atmosphere that was set during I'm Open, including perhaps the finest guitar solo on the album. During Infidel Act Of Love the middle eastern elements are perfectly matched with the nice progressive feel of the song. This slow composition totally highlights the vocal ability of Haidar even more than during the previous composition where the Myrath and Orphaned Land reference clearly shows. Smell Of War is powerful, furious and has some screams-a perfect example for high quality oriented metal. The album's final song Strongest Breed highlights the strong vocals again, and during the softer parts Haidar surly will remind you of the aforementioned Mariusz Duda, but when the power is turned up, his vocal style definitely is very different. All in all-a strong song to end the album.
Hiraeth turn out to be a very interesting album where lots of different elements are melded together to create something special. Lion Shepherd takes the strong and powerful elements from the oriental metal bands I mentioned and adds the relaxed and inspiring voice of Haidar, creating balance between power and emotion. Yin and yang if you want.
****+ Pedro Bekkers (edited by Robert James Pashman)
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