It might be hard to be convinced by the band name but there is no such issue with the new album from Finnish heavy rockers ssSHEENSss. The band’s second full-length, Strapping Stallions is a compelling beast of a proposition, riffs and rhythms as cantankerous as they are aggressive yet there is an eclectic devilry across the release which aligns itself to a gripping inventive craft, it all resulting in an album which is resourcefully unpredictable, mischievous, and most of all great fun.
Formed in 2011, the Hamina sextet set to work on their self-titled but album at the tail end of 2012 with producer Billy Anderson (Eyehategod, Mr. Bungle, Melvins, Neurosis), before unleashing it on the world to eager reception in the February of last year on guitarist Harri Pikka’s own label Stabbing Records. It was an attention grabbing stomp and sound but one which between albums has evolved into an even more muscular and ferocious tempest of stoner bred sinew sculpted rock ‘n’ roll. Early this year the line-up of vocalist Mikko Kiri, bassist Edu Lethal, drummer Juho Harjula, and the triple strike of guitarists made up of Pikka, Porkka and Muhli, hit the studio with a new horde of songs. Mixed by Tomas Skogsberg (The Hellacopters, Dismember) and mastered by Brad Boatright (Sleep, Corrosion of Conformity, Beastmilk), what emerged was the riveting and virulently contagious Strapping Stallions.
The accompanying press release announces that the album and its sound is something fans of Turbonegro, The Hellacopters, and ZZ Top will want to devour, something easy to agree with though that is only one shade of the diverse flavouring of the encounter. Opening track Adios, Fucker! for example pungently reminds of Troublegum era Therapy?, and as the nine tracks come and flirt with ears and imagination plenty other references come to mind, though they cannot defuse the potency of originality also spewing from ssSHEENSss. The opener is an instant wall of thumping rhythms and predacious riffs, all sides of the song converging on ears with an irritable tenacity. Employing essences of punk and metal to its keen and voracious, the stormy treat as mentioned easily reminds of the aforementioned Northern Ireland trio but also with its melodic sultry swagger hints at the likes of Mondo Generator. It is a riveting and thrilling start to the release, honest rock ‘n’ roll with little need to add over the top flourishes but allowing guitars and rhythms to craft a compelling web of highly infectious baiting.
The excellent opening is not matched by a cover of ZZ Top track Concrete And Steel, though to be fair ssSHEENSss twist it into an individual incitement of their own with resourceful imagination. It is a more than decent encounter but lacks the spark and in the face potency of its predecessor, something the next up You And Your Daughters is more capable of. Bluesy grooves entwine ears straight away as beats jab powerfully across their fiery coaxing. With vocals and riffs joining the swift temptation on feet and emotions, it is a rigorously inviting opening accentuated by sonic flames searing the magnetic spine of the song. There is also a seventies hard rock breath to the caustic sound fuelling the proposition, a lure which easily secures full attention and appetite but it is the mid-way twist into a bordering on bedlamic post punk/garage rock venture reminding of The Three Johns, where a great track becomes an outstanding one.
The equally stunning Voice Distortion Call with its heady and weighty intimidation of air and power sparks another lustful wave of hunger for the release, its Queens Of The Stone Age like devilry a sonic toxicity impossible to resist. With grooves and a sonic colouring you can almost physically taste such its spicy twang, the song is a gripping slab of stoner bred ferocity; a track as volatile as it is creatively composed. Another lofty highlight of the release, it is followed by the more classic metal toned Wolf Street Blues where that earlier Turbonegro comparison comes in handy. It is an easy going and undemanding proposition but keenly contagious and enjoyable providing another flavoursome turn in the diversity of Strapping Stallions.
Shadow Animals with its anthemic rhythmic thumping and corrosive riffery sets the fires in the passions burning bright again, its virulent hooks and Kiri’s vocal prowess irresistible amongst nothing but inescapable enticements. Imagine Mastodon meets again QOTSA and you get a sense of the adventurous climate and canvas of the song explored and set ablaze by the band. Its successor Let’s Explode does not quite match its triumph but still provides a lively smoulder of stalking riffs and classic rock soaked sonic endeavour to eagerly embrace. With at times a southern lilt to chords and heated harmonies from vocals, it is an enthralling offering, though it and its predecessor come nowhere close to the brilliance of the next track.
It is rare to call a cover the best track in a seriously impressive release but the band’s version of Love Will Tear Us Apart is sensational. Easily the best version of the track since Joy Division’s own unleashing, the band turns it into a new depressive seduction giving riffs a more carnivorous growl and beats antagonistic agility which lies perfectly with the pulsating throat of the bass and the melodic toxins which seep from every chord and twist of guitar. Even the vocals make a dramatic statement, Kiri managing to hold onto the cold emotion of Ian Curtis’ unique delivery whilst adding further expressive twists. It is pure dark majesty leaving Saigon the unenviable task of following and closing up the album, which it does successfully with its own anthemic rhythmic lures and melodic rabidity creating a song which whispers Eagles of Death Metal and Kyuss meets Melvins.
It is a great end to an exciting release which in some ways might even have missed a trick or two to become a modern classic. Nevertheless Strapping Stallions is another firm treat for the year and ssSHEENSss a band with a dodgy name and a natural ability to create exceptional rock ‘n’ roll.
Strapping Stallions is available via Soulseller Records on 3rd October
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