As far as Psychedelic Rock goes, Australia can’t do wrong at the moment. The psychedelic scene down under includes heavy-hitters like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, The Murlocs, and more, who continue to pump out fun and inventive records.
Sacred Shrines, a newer group from Brisbane, Australia, are hoping to make noise in that fertile scene, and they’re off to a good start. Their latest album, Enter the Woods, is at times Pop Rock resembling Oasis and at other times the grimy Psychedelia we tend to enjoy more at Monster Riff.
About Sacred Shrines
The band was formed in 2014 from the remnants of Phil Usher’s (vocals, guitar) former group, Grand Atlantic. Sacred Shrines released its debut album, Come Down from the Mountain, in 2016, and has already shared the stage with big acts like The Dandy Warhols.
Sacred Shrines is heavily influenced by ‘60s Psychedelia, especially what you could call “Sunshine Pop” and “Psych Pop.” Check out videos of their live shows, and you’ll find they look like they stepped out of a time machine wearing rock star outfits from the Age of Aquarius.
As Usher has noted in interviews before, though, the consistent sound of Sacred Shrines tends to be more the Psych/Garage Rock of bands like Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Morning After Girls.
Sacred Shrines is:
Phil Usher – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Jonny Pickvance – Drums
Beata Maglai – Keys, Vocals, Percussion
Robbie Zawada – Bass
Matt Weatherall – Guitar
Enter the Woods was mixed and mastered by several engineers, including Michael Badger (King Gizzard) and Donovan Miller (FOREVR).
Enter the Woods Album Review
Track One: Enter the Woods
As the shortest track on the album, “Enter the Woods” is an excellent opener/interlude that sets the tone for the record’s musical landscape. It’s Sacred Shrines at their ‘60s-Psychedelia best, a trippy sound and jingling percussion over Usher’s hazy vocals. The song also flows seamlessly into track two.
Track Two: Trail to Find
“Trail to Find” is a fun track and one in which the band has already produced a music video for. It opens with a riff off an electric 12-string guitar and it has a driving, up-tempo pace.
I couldn’t make out the lyrics (because Usher mumbles throughout), but he said in an interview the song is about the end of a romantic relationship. The song also has a slight Middle Eastern feel to it, and it fits the bill of Shrines’ general melancholy, yet sunshine Psych sound.
Track Three: Front Row Future
This is another track that already has a music video, which reminded me of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.” “Front Row Future” is one of the dirtier songs on the album, a Bluesy romp with a good bit of aggressive playing.
Track Four: Keep All the Sunshine
No disrespect to the band, but this was one of my least favorite tracks. “Keep All the Sunshine,” like many of the album’s songs, is short—a tight three minutes, one second. It’s catchy, but it reminded me too much of forgettable ‘90s Alt Rock tunes that got played endlessly on the radio. If anything, the song might be a great one for summertime, but it wasn’t up my alley.
Track Five: Take the Fall
Things get back on track with “Take the Fall,” also catchy but a bit darker. Usher sings in the chorus refrain, “Where did you decide to take the fall?” Halfway through the tune, there’s also a cool breakdown with the ambiance of the guitars over Pickvance’s driving drums.
“Take the Fall” doesn’t really sound Psychedelic, though, and reminded me more of some of the Goo Goo Dolls’ better songs. Not exactly a bad thing.
Track Six: Through the Haze
“Through the Haze” is a short and more subtle track that establishes some Psych street cred. Usher’s vocals are highly distorted, and the song feels very much like the title—traveling through a haze until it slowly burns out.
This was definitely a standout track and a cool interlude for the halfway point of the record. It had a more artsy feel to it that I dig.
Track Seven: Paint the Sky
Shrines gets upbeat again with “Paint the Sky,” but we didn’t mind. The song is damn catchy and also one of the album’s longest at four minutes exactly. Usher’s vocals are smooth and syrupy, and you’ll probably find yourself tapping your feet.
We’re back in Psych Pop territory with this track, and we can definitely imagine this one being played on the radio somewhere.
Track Eight: Stranger
The guitars are tuned down in “Stranger,” and they sound mean. The track has one of the coolest riffs on the album, too. “Stranger” picks up intensity midway through, as Usher howls the lyrics and then ends with a desperate whine. Overall, one of our favorite tracks that shows off Shrines’ talent.
Track Nine: Never Far From Where We Are
“Never Far From Where We Are” is a very cool, chill track that also functions as a interlude between the harder-rocking songs. The slow, dreamy pace and Usher’s hazy vocals made me feel like I was listening to a psychedelic Beatles song, which is an excellent thing indeed.
Track Ten: Aching Bones
The downtempo pace doesn’t last long, though, quickly jumping into hard-driving “Aching Bones.” Unfortunately, this was another track like “Keep All the Sunshine” that reminded me of the ‘90s Alt Rock I’ve tried to forget about.
Yes, the song is catchy, but it feels a little formulaic. I wondered if “Aching Bones” was Usher’s ode to the plight of the Indie Rock band – the constant touring, self-promotion, and hand-to-mouth lifestyle that leaves one aching.
Track Eleven: Shadow Man
“Shadow Man” is another darker track and a catchy one, too. Trying to decipher the lyrics, I wondered if it was about drug addiction or at least a drug dealer. “I’ll be down on Nothing Street/searching for the recipe,” Usher sings.
Either way, it’s a cool tune, and “Shadow Man” also has the most plays of all the album’s songs on Spotify so far.
Track Twelve: The Hunter
Whoa—time to get in the mud with “The Hunter.” It’s a Bluesy, creepy track with a very cool guitar riff. “You can take the cure/but it’s my disease,” Usher croons before an organ and fast-drumming freak-out.
“The Hunter” may be my favorite song on the album, and I wished it was longer. I wanted to see the band flex its muscles and drag out the eerie ambiance of this track.
Track Thirteen: Pass Like a Parade
“The Hunter” flows seamlessly into “Pass Like a Parade,” a track that functions very well as a closer. At less than three minutes long, it’s a great bookend and a melancholy send-off.
“Do we really want/the things that we can’t have?” Usher sings. It’s one of those questions without an answer, a brilliant way to end the album on an open-ended note.
Standout Tracks: “The Hunter” and “Stranger”
Pros: Sacred Shrines takes a giant conceptual leap with Enter the Woods compared to their debut album. Interlude tracks like “Enter the Woods” and “Pass Like a Parade” give the feeling they were shooting for an overarching artistic theme, which they accomplished.
The album covers a lot of terrain, from the darker songs like “The Hunter” to the chill, hazy Psych of tracks like “Never Far From Where We Are.” The band worked hard on this album (you can tell), and they should be proud of the result.
Cons: As simply a matter of personal taste, I really disliked the more sunshine-drenched vibes of tracks like “Keep All the Sunshine” and “Aching Bones.” Compared to the rest of the album, these songs felt somewhat out of place.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed Enter the Woods, and it’s a record I’ll be listening to a lot. I also look forward to seeing what else Sacred Shrines has in store for us.