Plymouth’s Melodic Death Metal five-piece War Shepherd have achieved a lot in a very short time, having only formed in mid/late 2022. With these songs written at some point during the lockdown by guitarist Chris, initially, the material was rehearsed weekly by Chris and James on guitar, with Nay on bass and Steve covering drums, with Jamie joining at a later date.
War Shepherd – Act I. Atrocities Beneath A Blue Star (Independent)
Release Date: 6 October 2023
Words: Jools Green
Jamie had already proven her capabilities with her guest backing vocals on Alestorm’s 2022 album Seventh Rum Of A Seventh Rum. Here, she adds vocals and her own lyrics to these instrumental pieces. “When I joined the band, the entire album, instrumentally, was finished,” Jamies told MetalTalk. “I had free reign with the lyrics and made them fit around the concept we developed. Despite the concept, they stand on their own as tales of human emotion and triumph.”
War Shepherd have been steadily building a reputation for delivering an intense, immersive and all-encompassing live performance. The diminutive yet mighty vocalist Jamie is fearless when it comes to scaling stacks, climbing onto venue bars or diving into the pit whilst simultaneously belting out her harsh and broad-ranging vocal delivery, as the considerably less reckless four other members focus on delivering a technically flawless musical canvas for her vocals.
Combined, it’s an intense, winning combination, so after testing this material extensively, it resulted in the debut offering, Act I. Atrocities Beneath A Blue Star.
“We’re all incredibly proud of the album,” guitarist Chris told us. “It is a symbol of all our efforts, and we couldn’t be more excited to finally share it with the world!”
The effort that has gone into perfecting the material is unmissable in both their live endeavours and this album. They draw musical inspiration from a broad range of acts such as Arch Enemy, In Flames, Insomnium, Testament, At The Gates, and Trivium, with equally broad-ranging lyrical inspiration taken from humanity, science fiction and war.
This results in a twelve-track, forty-three-minute release that is fresh, exciting and technically excellent. The album opens with a brief intro, Incoming Transmission, an eerie soundscape that leads into A Power Greater Than One. Immediately, that haunting, repeating riff opens and re-emerges across the track between the lyrics. It grabs and holds your attention, such is its addictively engaging nature, the harsh vocals adding a sharp contrast of acidic highs and lower growls.
Dethrone The King continues in the same engaging manner, delivered with full-throttle intensity and precision. I love the fast-climbing riff pattern and unrelenting drum work that courses beneath the acidic vocals. Midway, you get a sublime swathe of haunting leadwork, the track taking a more reflective path in the second half, closing on haunting keyboard/piano work.
I love the noticeably Swedish feel of the riffs of Hell Or High Water. Yes, this aspect is present across the release, but here, it really impacted me. It’s a superbly melodic and engaging piece with another addictive repeat that gets its hooks into you, and Jamie gets some superb depth into her vocals.
The next piece, Living Through Your Hate, was the second single from the album. Released in June, it has an almost symphonic undercurrent and drum work that absolutely pummels. The riffs rise and fall in engaging waves, and again, they are so catchy they stick in your mind. The low-end vocals made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and that’s a good thing.
A Dream Of The End drives towards you within a torrent of militaristic drumming and driving riffs. It’s a sharp, fast piece that packs a punch and is delivered with brutal precision and superb leadwork in the second half. Jamie explores the full range of her vocal capabilities and puts some impressive protraction on her vocals, too.
The first single to be unleashed was Solitary State, back in April. This has a superb, haunting opening melody. The drum work heralds the ramp-up in pace, but a symphonic undercurrent prevails, maintaining that haunting anthemic quality. You also get clean, semi-spoken/semi-sung male vocals in the second half, contrasted and superseded by two magnificently protracted ground-shaking roars. Another track that packs a subtle but powerful punch.
The third single, which came out in August, A Starless Sky, is another punch packer but also boasts a beautiful melodic side. The vocals are acidic, and the second half lead work soaring and dramatic.
A beautifully haunting melody weaves throughout The Light, an up-tempo and complex piece. Jamie delivers both extents of her vocal range. Executioner has an exciting and insisting drive that weaves and winds in an engaging and tantalising manner, but as always, you get the reflectively melodic side, but just with more punch and drive with this piece.
The penultimate piece, Return To Yesterday, is reflective and haunting to open, taking a grittier turn as it progresses, again a fitting base for those growls and hisses. The final piece, War Shepherd, continues with haunting melodies, driving riffs and dual vocal delivery from Jamie delivered in that engagingly dramatic manner one final time.
Act I. Atrocities Beneath A Blue Star makes a hugely engaging listen. The heady meld of heavy riffs, powerful melodies, anthemic choruses and brutal vocals are all delivered with perfection and sit in your memory long after the album has finished. I love the echoey, eerie fade out and those final two words…. “End Transmission.”
“We’ve been very honoured to work with fantastic creatives during the process of making this album,” War Shepherd said. “People such as the wonderful Tom ‘Rimmy’ Rimmington who handled the recording, producing and mastering for the whole album. The insanely talented Bryony Osborne brings our artistic vision to life for the album artwork. And the virtuoso Matee Holc, who kindly offered us his talents on the cello.”
Act I. Atrocities Beneath A Blue Star will be available in physical formats at live performances or as a digital download from their Bandcamp page.