I HAD BEEN avoiding reviewing this disc, because 2011 has exposed my hi-fi system as a tyrant when it comes to noisy rock. So much rock music is compressed, and then mastered loud, and my gear exposes all the resulting glare, making the listening experience less than enjoyable.
In the case of Shihad, I needn’t have worried. This disc sounds great, and that’s across the board, from the savage riffery of their early tunes through the more commercial, melodic sound of their mid-period, right up to their recent, once again more fiery reinvention. I don’t know whether each of these 20 tracks has been individually remastered from the original tracks, but sonically, everything the hard rock fan needs is there: the pumping bass, the hard-as-nails drumming, the roaring vocals, and most importantly, those astringent, head-banging riffs that make the group our most admired intelligent bogans. The songs from that iffy mid-period, predictably, sound a little less good than the early and late-period tracks, because they tend to concentrate on the mids (lots of choruses and vocals) at the expense of the things we really need from Shihad (like the determinedly machine-gun-rutting rhythms and the explosiveness and the sense of menace).
The Meanest Hits is the first Shihad compilation ever, which is pretty cool. They have, after all, been around since ’88, and are valued as one of NZ’s most prized rock assets, having racked up about a million sales since their first album in ’93. It’s all over the show, from right throughout their career, and displays the group’s amazing consistency. While it could be argued that the group lack the personality of a genuinely great band – at various points they echo the work of everyone from Killing Joke to Rage Against The Machine and Straitjacket Fits – they’re also far from copyists. And unquestionably, they do the business.
The least appealing tracks are represented by the period early this century, when they changed their name briefly to Pacifier, and were trying hard to tone down their sound to appeal to the American masses. But thankfully, there’s not too much of that here.
You’ve got to hand it to them: these self-proclaimed former Upper Hutt petrol-heads have always ploughed a path that’s part metal (but without actually being a metal band) and
part industrial (without actually being an industrial band) and done it with both horsepower and efficiency. While they’re just a little too geared towards stadiums and giant moshpits and anthemic choruses for my personal liking, I can’t help but respect them, and even managed to sneak in some secret headbanging while listening to the disc. Just don’t tell anyone. GARY STEEL
Music = 3.5/5
Sound = 4/5