If you live in somewhere like London, Berlin, New York or California, it’s pretty damn easy to be in a band. Just roll out of bed right into one of the hundreds of vintage gear stores on the Hippy District and pick up a guitar, swing by the local metal bar and grab those other dudes/dudettes wearing Saint Vitus shirts to jam with, hit up the readily available practise space and BOOM, you are in a band. Simples. If you live in Bangalore, India however those things and people you take for granted out West are a little more, disparate, one would imagine. So fair play to Abhichek Michael (bass/vox), Namit Chauhan (guitar/vox) and Deepak Raghu (drums/vox) for saying no to passing their time notching up runs on the cricket field back in 2011 to gear up and slam down on some meaty stoner-metal grooves.
Riffing onwards for four more years alongside a local core group of committed doom acts, including the promising Bevar Sea, the Indian trio have now released their ballsy debut album Stereolithic Riffalocalypse, which does everything it says on the tin and more. With the record already signed up by US vinyl outlet Helmet Lady Records for a summer re-release on sexy multi-coloured waxes, alongside their earlier EP/demo Demonstration 2, the future seems strong for this amp-terrorising threesome.
Stereolithic Riffalocalypse showboats eight proud, loud and well-formed tracks, but one has to say that Shepherd do heavily show a lot of obvious US influences from across both sludgy doom and grunge. However, the Indian three-piece do manage to smash both genres together all rather neatly into a package I’ll term as ‘slunge’ until the phrase either catches on and becomes uncool, or fades into nothingness, as I suspect it probably will.
Spite Pit is a rather smouldering, High On Fire-worshipping opener – full of brooding menace, grimacing vocals, bulldozer basslines and slow, turbulent drums. Namit even manages to crank out one of those Matt Pike-esque lazy dazy background solos, nice.
Turdspeak and Crook introduce the grunge side of the equation as Namit’s cackling guitar gives way to some Soundgarden-y vocals straight out of the Superunknown songbook. Shepherd keep it slow n’ low at this stage in proceedings; allowing the high-end Cornell-a-like hymns to wash over the lethargic, bluesy grooves until they’re ready to build into a few faster riffing crescendos. Namit’s guitar also has more than a whiff of Wino about it and I’d be willing to bet that more than a few The Obsessed CDs have done the rounds throughout their practise room, alongside their more modern influences.
The rather intimidatingly-named Black Cock Of Armageddon (“ooooh, I say!”) and the solemnly soulful title track both chow down harder on the bass grooves to snow-plough a path to self-destruction for some deeper vocal lines to parade through. The Shepherd style on these two songs rather reminds me of the same peaceful authority that Jerry Cantrell used once upon a time in order to blaze the trail for Layne Staley’s vocals to echo in Alice In Chains’ wake.
The title track does perhaps wear down one particular slow-mo riff for a little too long, but as another Wino-y solo cackles from the speakers and Deepak’s pounding slows to a crawl, Shepherd shift up several gears into a chugging, bouncing bomb of a riff to end the pivotal track on a more euphoric moment. Bog Slime also continues this pattern of beginning the track with murky Eagle Twin-style baritone doom before finishing us all off with some bikers-on-speed sludge rock off the back of Abhi’s pummelling bass from the mid-point. Bog Slime may well essentially be two songs fastened together with Gaffa tape, with the second half straining at the leash of its moody brother, but it’s a sure-fire highlight of this confident as all hell debut record.
Wretch Salad slows us right back down to a crawl before bringing back the bluesy boogie in an unexpectedly upbeat manner, before all your weight is crushed back through your boots with eight-minute closer Stalebait, which does a grand job at summing up that ‘slunge’ vibe for the very last time.
In Stereolithic Riffalocalypse, Shepherd do not have the most original-sounding debut on their hands, but the curious and unusual mix of mid-90s Seattle sounds and old-school doom gives them enough edge to repeat on you after a few listens to those sizable grooves. Watch this space and see how these Bangalore-based undergrounders both gather the herd and mind after their flocks of new fans.
Scribed by: Pete Green