Shredded jeans, domestic beer, skull-inspired badassery, and whiplash fast guitar hooks end up embodying the sound and spirit of Shaman’s Harvest. The group is a subversive spin on country rock, late 70’s Aerosmith flipped on its head and spun around a few times over. This is country rock without the ballads to pick-up trucks. This is country rock with real meat, and while the Jason Aldean’s and Blake Shelton’s are “rocking out” to acoustic ballads and seducing barely-of-age Georgian-born blondes, Shaman Harvest is smoking things and breaking stuff.
Smokin Hearts & Broken Guns is the latest album by this group of country-coursing misfits, and it is a blast of chaotic impulsive country jamming. The band’s own ethos is summed up not with generic country rock clichés, but dark lyrics of doom and gloom. This is not surprising. Frontman Nathan Hurt with throat cancer in the early stages of recording the new album, and his gloomy introspection is put right up front and center on these songs. A tracks traditionally about broken girls and shitty ex-girlfriends is inverted. All the anger Hurt seemed to have for exes in the past is almost ridiculed with spirited honesty. It is now about mortality. It is now about friends. And in a weird and unquestionably humble way, it is about just rocking out to the free world.
Neil Young would be proud. But Shaman’s Harvest always seemed to have this sinister edge to their material. They gained modest success in 2009 with ‘Shine,” which marks the group’s fourth official release. But they recently got picked up by the Mascot Label; group who is pushing for this new album. The company likely heard the unapologetic frustrations in Hunt’s voice. They attached to that rhythmic strength in “Here it Comes” that recalled a little bit of Alice in Chains tortured intensity and Social Distortion’s punk/country grit. This is the formula of the group’s sound. They have this heavy vibe that just demands your attention. It is coming from a place of serious fright. In “here It Comes,” it does not take a lyrical mastermind to realize that hunt is teasing death, taunting it with his foremost might, yet sincerely afraid of what it means and what it will bring. How much of it is a show? How much of it is overcompensated vulnerability?
Shaman’s Harvest is not always so seedy and depressing. ‘Country as Fuck” is a dynamo of a song, a furiously frenzied ode to big thickly produced country rock with that Outlaws underpinning. The group isn’t trying to break any laws, at least not in any realistic sense. But a little fun never hurt anyone, especially when you are knocking on death’s door.
This is essentially the moral of the story. Shaman’s Harvest is essentially a big fun country hard rock group only a few shades away from the unbridled debauchery of a Poison or Motley Crue. But what makes Shaman’s Harvest better, or at least smarter, is that their party rock fun is filtered through esoteric darkness. What begins as a bunch of boys drinking around a campfire between mudding trips ends with a little darkness, every time. This is what makes the band so relatable. We all feel the dark, we all try to run, and in the end the reaper must harvest.