Come Down From the Mountain Sacred Shrines Independent It’s a rare thing to hear a debut album as confident and compelling as Come Down From the Mountain.
Brisbane five-piece Sacred Shrines possesses a wealth of collective musical experience. Bandleader Phil Usher (vocals, guitar) and drummer Mat Von Diehm were members of Brisbane rock institution Grand Atlantic, but the quintet has been quiet about its pedigree, preferring to ditch past lives in favour of emerging as a fully formed new entity.
From top to tail, this album is a striking collection, featuring 10 tracks rooted in the canon of modern psychedelic-influenced rock acts such as the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Black Angels and the Dandy Warhols.
Fittingly, the band played its second show while supporting the Dandy Warhols in 2014.
In such an overworked field, it’s a tricky thing to balance the past and future.
The line between imitation and innovation is thin, but Sacred Shrines attack their songwriting and performance with such skill and vigour that the band lands firmly in the latter camp.
Wah-scorched rock songs are its bread and butter, and it certainly excels in this mode.
But a couple of quieter, keyboard-led moments are strategically deployed to great effect, as on bouncy album closer Blocking Out the Sun and the beautiful, dreamlike third track, Lights Turn Green, which features Usher’s best vocal performance.
Elsewhere, the chord progression and swinging rhythm on fifth track Perfect Dream is so perfect it effectively exhibits a masterclass in rock ’n’ roll songwriting.
Add a blistering guitar solo halfway through the five-minute jaunt, and the sum is a superlative example of psychedelic rock at its peak.
Even more inspiring are the “drum kit” sounds in the expressive arrangement of Too Much Heaven. This is the 12th album from this group, which originated from the simple idea of presenting a concert of laid-back ballads in St Peter’s Cathedral in the group’s home city of Adelaide. The concert was so successful they have since taken it across the country and overseas. A Country Mile by alto Naomi Crellin is mournful and atmospheric, and the ABBA classic When All Is Said and Done is earnest and uplifting. The ebb and flow of the second Sting song on this album, The Pirate’s Bride, is well managed with its polyphonic lines and Nick Begbie’s use of unembellished voice sounds remarkably like Sting himself at times, and expresses the resigned theme of the song — the tide rolls in, the tide rolls out, without a care for the ways of men — well.
Billy Joel’s Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) crowns this album with a breathtakingly beautiful and simple four-part vocal introduction, followed by verses sung by Begbie and Sally Cameron.