Latest release: Old Gods (Warner)Website: www.shihad.com
Eight years after the rage of FVEY, the mighty Shihad are unleashing rage and vitriol once again with their tenth full-length album Old Gods. Completed during intervals of Melbourne’s interminable lockdown periods last year Old Gods is an angry, sludgy and heavy album, the logical follow-up to the previous release in the wake of Donald Trump’s chaotic four years as President of the US. Drummer Tom Larkin took us through the philosophy that drives the Shihad sound and recording in lockdown, among other things.
FVEY came out in 2014, so it’s been ages since the last album – what have you all been doing in that time?
Well, I think everyone’s gotten on with life a little bit. Jon’s had two children, and we’ve just proceeded to go about our lives and do various things in various places. It’s been really strong. Over that time, we’ve had time to take it easier and get together and jam some stuff, which allows us to write at a kind of, I suppose, leisurely pace, and we’re finally at this point where we can gather what we’ve done over the last four years since we started writing in earnest after the last album and boil it down into what you’ve heard now.
Old Gods has a very raw and sludgy sound. It’s something Shihad has played around with before, but not really to the extent you’ve taken it this time.
We’re pretty committed in terms of tones to explore these lower tunings. And we have done that previously. We’ve committed ourselves to that way of performing and playing. It’s an area we explored and then felt it actually suited us very well. I think that’s a large part of the reason it sounds the way it does. We’ve found a corner that satisfies us within the Shihad range and what we can do. We’re really pleased with it.
It’s very definitely Shihad. I don’t think anyone is going to mix this up with a NOLA sludge band or something, but it reflects the tone of the album very well. Old Gods comes from a very dark place, doesn’t it?
Totally. That’s a big part of what we wanted to do. Thematically, we’ve got to find something to rail against, to have that kind of sound that we’ve been known for and we’ve comfortable projecting, and that’s an important part of that. When you’re dealing with life in your middle age, life’s not cut and dried like it was when you’re younger. When you’re younger, you’re full of piss and vinegar and you want to gather attention and make a mark in all sorts of ways. As your life grows, you become more balanced and there becomes areas in your life that are full of genuine joy, and other parts that are full of genuine sorrow.
Shihad has always been a vehicle for getting out aggression, for the most part, and so that means that in order to fulfil what Shihad is, it really needs to be driven by frustrations and perspectives. It’s about having the time to find an outlet for that, and that really imbues the entire record, this kind of sense of outrage and anger. What’s come to the surface through the Trump presidency and how the world’s got to this point, recognising what society could be, perhaps, and investigating some of the corners in which we have done the right thing at times.
The themes behind FVEY were inspired by your experiences in the US under Bush, and a lot of those ideas seemed to come into sharper focus under Trump, so it’s interesting that FVEY came out even before his candidacy. It’s almost like you were foretelling the future a little bit there. Old Gods is like a stark picture of what has happened in the wake of that.
A similar realisation applies, in that there are going to be significant things to take stock of, coming up, for us as a society. We wanted to look at what some of these elements are that are perhaps, not really respecting the idea of humanity and bringing them to the surface and readdress them again. There have been certain movements and incidents that have been integral to moving us forward as a society into something that can accommodate every one’s hopes and dreams – within reason – and we have the opportunity to do that, but you’re not going to do that without truly making access to opportunity equal for everyone and in truly understanding the impact of humans on other nations and how that’s moved through history, and what that means, and the other big one is the environment, insofar as human beings are concerned, is under a lot of pressure, and that needs to be acknowledged as well.
That seems to be just starting to cut through once again, because we’ve had the COVID thing for what seems like such a long time. But COVID is going to go away or lessen as a threat at some point, but the climate is going to keep getting worse, so environmental issues are going to be around for a much longer time.
Yes, of course! We need to be taught that COVID is, in fact, an environmental problem. It’s one way of looking at it. Planet Earth has no problem existing without us. When we talk about environmental problems, we’re not really taking about [the planet]. The planet’s going to be fine. It’s just going to go – Next! We did the dinosaurs, we’ll do it with you guys: fuck off! So it’s really not about the planet. It’s about us. Coronavirus is exactly that – it’s something within our environment, within our greater sphere of existence, that we can’t cope with and could potentially wipe a great number of us out. Likewise, anything else… the temperature rising… they’re all a subset of rapid expansion of technology and human endeavour without paying due attention to what those unintended consequences are. What would drive a mindset that defers responsibility? Look at the way we run finance in the west and, to that extent, anything like a corporate agenda, where profits are put as the primary focus to a corporation. That set up automatically produces these consequences that are injurious, and we need to review that. We need to look at other ways of supporting people globally.
It sounds like you might be saying that capitalism is at the very root of all of these problems!
I think capitalism drives environmental issues very strongly, but I think it can also drive environmental solutions. There’s many ways to look at it, but I think that whatever mix of whatever’s going on right now is up for review, and this is the moment we need to review it, because we’re seeing these outcomes right now, and coronavirus is a really nice, stark example of what happens environmentally when we don’t pay attention.
It’s having a very heavy impact on our economy.
Well that’s the point. The economy is an outcome of humanity. The economy is supported by humans, and when you bypass human’s capacity to participate in the economy, when you disregard it, the economy suffers. That’s what we’re seeing right now. If everything is about money, then you don’t look after some things that need to be looked after that are deemed to be unimportant or non-profitable, but you end up paying later.
There’s nothing more true right now for the performance arts. I’m getting emails all the time about tours being cancelled, moved, postponed. You’ve got dates lined up and hopefully they’ll go ahead, but you’ve got to think, “Are those venues going to be there in six months, or even three?” Bands can still make music and get it out through digital platforms, you can put vinyl in stores or online, but the places where you play live – are they going to survive? That’s going to be a problem for everyone.
Absolutely it will be a problem for everyone, and it’s what we’ve gone through in Victoria, and you’re obviously going through it now… you could barely make music. We were lucky insofar as we had the music, all the instrumentation, written before March 2020. The only way we got the make the record was jumping in those gaps between lockdowns. We made it into NSW when there wasn’t the problems there is there now, and we escaped lockdown three in Melbourne by two hours! We were the second last flight out of Melbourne into NSW, and that’s how we got to make the album. And we’ve had Karl, who lives in NZ, we actually had some pre-production sessions with Adam Spark and he lives in NZ and we had to do that via Zoom and via files.