New Zealand alt-rock legends Shihad dropped their tenth full-length album Old Gods today.
Featuring the singles Tear Down Those Names’, Little Demons, and Feel The Fire, Old Gods is a furious call for change that is being echoed around the world.
Old Gods states its intent from the moment the crushing, grinding riff of opener Tear Down Those Names explodes to life, with frontman Jon Toogood addressing the tumbling of existing cultural structures such as the statues celebrating slave traders: “There’s been a change in the weather/We’re witnessing history/Throwing thieves in the river/We’re banishing bigotry”.
One song later and he’s urging the killing of “old gods” in the title-track, while referencing the storming of the Capitol in Washington DC, the generational trauma suffered by First Nations people at the hands of colonialism, the rise of Donald Trump and his cronies, and his disgust at those in power who support him (“You put your money on a pig dressed up as a man”).
Elsewhere Toogood rages against the “millionaires working for billionaires” in “the hellscape” of conservative talk radio on ‘Mink Coat’ (“You’ve got blood on your mink coat”); the legitimisation of racism in Empire Falling (“That’s the sound of an empire falling”); and the radicalisation of a generation fuelled by misinformation and conspiracy theories on Facebook in Just Like You. There is room for a little light-heartedness (The Hill Song is “about Israel Falou’s Instagram account”), even if there’s no missing Toogood’s swipe at bigotry.
“It’s a call to arms, but it’s also a fuck you to people who think they’re getting away with robbing the bank. I can see you,”
Such vitriol would amount to nothing were it not backed by the sonic apocalypse created by Toogood, drummer Tom Larkin, guitarist Phil Knight and bassist Karl Kippenberger.
In the lead up to the album's release, guitarist Phil Knight jumped on the phone to chat to us about the making of Old Gods, rediscovering his love of the riff, the buzz of playing live again and trying to live up to the standard set by a 1991 AC/DC gig.
Phil, thanks for taking the time to chat with Maniacs. Shihad’s tenth album Old Gods drops on October 8th and from what we’ve heard so far it seems to be quite an angry affair, what inspired that angstier side to come out?
"Instrumentally it was always going to be pretty heavy, at least that was very much the intent. The way we write these days is we’ll fly Carl over from NZ before or after a run of shows and then spend two weeks in a room together, just working on the instrumental parts, putting riff together, so Jon puts his songwriting hat to the side and concentrates on being a guitarist. So we went into that process with the intent of making a heavier album, we were trying to find a way to step up from FVEY, which was one of the heaviest albums we’d done in a while."
For a band that’s been around for a bit that writing process sounds like a great way to rediscover the fun of making music too. Did you find it refreshing to be going back to just trying to bang out the heaviest gnarliest riffs you could muster?
Totally, we’ve definitely had over the years our forays into pop land, but we came to the realization that the heavy thing is what these four people do best together"
From the songwriting perspective, you were saying that Jon put aside his lyrical direction and focussed more on conjuring the riffs, given that was the approach are you at all surprised how cohesively the lyrical narrative and the music came together?
Yes and no. To an extent it is driven by the heaviness of the music, you’re not likely to write a love song that sounds this angry, but it was also very much inspired by what was going on in the world at the time. I mean we started writing this record in 2016, which was when Trump had won the election and people were quite mad with the direction that followed that. I know I was pretty freaked out personally, watching that presidency unfold and then watching the continued run of quasi-dictators rising to power across the world and the rise of the alt-right and also the murder of George Floyd. We’ve always been a political band and we’ve always written about and talked about equality and social responsibility.
I know that the Black Lives Matter movement had a particularly big impact on Jon. I think he saw it from a slightly different perspective this time, as he now has biracial kids, so he connected with that and there are a few songs on the record that reflect that. Then the rest of the record is just us singing about the stuff we’ve always sung about."
It’s a great mix and I think that makes the album a holistic listening experience. It sounds very much like it was intended to be listened to in one sitting. Was that a goal going into making the record?
Definitely. I’m not going to tell you which albums, but for some albums in the past, we’ve had a tough time tracklisting them, as some songs were much better than others. That wasn’t the case with this one, we had about seven different variations of the tracklisting that could have worked, and still would have had the impact. It’s a very important thing, tracklisting but it is made a lot easier when you have a batch of songs that you believe in and that are all hitting at 100%."
In terms of the guitar work on this record, you sound like you are having an absolute blast there are riffs everywhere on this thing. Is there anything that stands out to you as being a moment you're particularly proud of on this one?
"Straight off the top of my dome, the riff to Old Gods is so simple and fun to play. The first song on the album Tear Down Those Names is one-note, but it is just heavy perfection in one note. Apart from doing my half of the rhythm tracks, I’m on the right of the mix and Jon is on the left, we made the decision to make it intimate like that, but apart from having fun locking down all of those riffs, there are a few solos I got to have fun with. Also, while Jon was stressing over the lyrics at the Airbnb in Gosford where we recorded, I got to have fun and play with a million guitar pedals with the producer Adam Spark, to make some atmospheric stuff, that was a lot of fun actually!"
The record really does sounds like seeing Shihad live, which is something some people in Queenstown got to do recently. What was it like playing live again after all that downtime?
"It was amazing. I was pretty nervous, because we hadn’t played for so long, and due to having to quarantine, we only ended up getting about two hours to rehearse. But it went great, it was just such a buzz. We started the set with Tear Down Those Names and the crowd just started moving as they would to My Minds Sedate or The General Electric and we just fed off that energy. We played Little Demons at the end too, and they loved it."
Outside of music, what is something that you are a Maniac for?
Running, I like running, I just ran 11km’s for the fourth time in seven days. That’s something that has really helped me get through the lockdowns. I listen to a lot of podcasts when I’m out there but for the last 10 mins or so, I’ll listen to Parkway Drive or Lamb of God or something like that to power me to the finish line."
If you could have any song play whenever you enter a room, to announce your arrival, what song would you want it to be?
I don’t know why but Back in Black by AC/DC comes straight to me"
I can see that working so well, too, you should come out playing the riff yourself, so you just always have a guitar on you, at all times!
Yeah yeah, when I walk into Woolworth’s, that’d be a great TikTok video."
That would be a great TikTok video, you should go do that!
I think I’m going to, thanks for the idea!"
Phil I’ll let you go but before I do I just wanted to say kudos on being one of the best live bands in the scene, I’ve watched you live a lot of times during my life and you’ve never failed to put on a killer show, so cheers for the good memories!
"We’re always trying to live up to the standard of seeing AC/DC in 1991, that’s the benchmark we’ve been working towards for 30/40 years."
Listen to Shihad Old Gods