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I adored Lion Shepherd's debut album, 'Hiraeth', released a couple of years ago. Rock, metal, prog, folk, psychedelic and ambient elements were mixed up and flavoured with ethic and world music idioms, and a distinct bias towards Middle Eastern modes. It was quite a unique fusion. And, more importantly, an album to feel and experience, as much as one to cognize. The level of emotional expression through their art was stunning.

Two years on, and the core duo comprising Lion Shepherd, vocalist Kamil Haidar and guitarist Mateusz Owczarek, are back with a new album, 'Heat'. The former was responsible for composing all music and lyrics and, of course, vocals, whereas the latter performed all electric/acoustic guitars and Irish bouzouki on the album. The remainder of the recording lineup is Lukasz Adamczyk on bass; drummer Slawek Berny; keyboardist Wojciech Olszak and some rather delicious backing vocals courtesy of Kasia Roscinska.

Like 'Hiraeth', Lion Shepherd's unique blend of contrasting, exotic flavours is present, once again. Aside from guitars, bass, drums and keys, there's a Syrian oud lute brought into play, the Persian santur, and a few Indian/Arabic percussive instruments. But, to be brutally honest, upon first listen, much of this album washed over me with an overwhelming sense of "this is just above average... nothing special here." However, on subsequent listening experiences, I slowly learned that this album's true beauty is one that reveals itself piece by piece. It's all about the nuances and subtleties. It's all about the layers within the instrumentations. It's all about the slow-burning affects of all the elements. Original melodies need time to embed themselves. The subtleties require repeated listens to fully come to the fore.

What's immediately striking about 'Heat' is how much more of an upbeat album it is, in terms of its general vibe within the compositions and their delivery, than 'Hiraeth'. There are still glimpses of the band's melancholic prowess, that made 'Hiraeth' such an absorbing listen, but the overriding feeling is more buoyant. Aside from the general high level of musicianship throughout, and Haidar's incredibly likeable, calming, gentle voice, the album holds a few surprises and twists, too. For example, there's the closing track, 'Swamp Song', which sounds like something from Devin Townsend's 2014 'Casualties of Cool' album, with a country/blues ambience about it. The layered vocals/choir during 'When the Curtain Falls', both blended with the instrumentation and in isolation for the song's outro, is truly beautiful. And the folk flavoured beauty of 'Farewell' is simply sublime.

It's great to see that Lion Shepherd have progressed from their established sound, and continued to use music as a medium of emotional expression, rather adhering to any genre-led restrictions. As such, their music, once again, has an undeniable timeless quality. I have to say, though, 'Hiraeth' edges it for me in terms of my own personal enjoyment and level of engagement with their musical aesthetic, but 'Heat' is still a strong album on its own terms. It's also nice to see a touching dedication that appears in the back of the booklet attached to the rather attractive digipak: "We dedicate this record to Piotr Grudzinski."... the Riverside guitarist who tragically passed away in February 2016.
MJM Music PL
Review by Mark Holmes
1) On the Road Again
2) Heat
3) Code of Life
4) When the Curtain Falls
5) Dream On
6) Fail
7) Storm is Coming
8) Dazed by Glory
9) Farewell
10) Swamp Song
"It's great to see that Lion Shepherd have progressed from their established sound, and continued to use music as a medium of emotional expression, rather adhering to any genre-led restrictions."