Shock Sorrow – Pagan Queen

 Shock Sorrow – Pagan Queen

Shock Sorrow – Pagan Queen – EP Review

One year to the day…would ya look at that.  That’s pretty good timing on those record releases there Shock Sorrow.  They’ve got two under their belt so far, both of which came out officially on Halloween.

It’s been just over the ol’ 365 since the last time I was reviewing Shock Sorrow here on these pages of ours, back when I was checking the two-piece band of Keith & Steff Caffrey out for the first time with their debut EP called The Heart Bleeds in 2021.  Sounds like they’ve got an even firmer grip on the sound they’re looking to create with the release of this new record, the Pagan Queen EP.  I’m not necessarily saying that it’s all my jam personally, a lot of it is, but more importantly, the level of detail they put into their music is seriously impressive, and their dedication to their band gives them a shot within every set of ears that are listening.  They’re clearly professionals, and invested in making the best music they can.

“Survive” starts out the record with a misty, mysterious, and haunting vibe as the song begins…it’ll kick into a more standard Rock gear as the beat comes in, which ain’t bad…but I’m probably more partial to the low-key way this track started out as opposed to reaching for those big anthem-type moments they go for later on.  Love the guitar solo, and I feel like the backing vocals have some really stellar highlights along the way and the uniqueness of Shock Sorrow comes through strong whenever Steff shows up in that regard; as for Keith’s lead…he’s got his moments, he’s got his thing, and I’d imagine that the folks that dig that style of sound will probably have no problem at all connecting to what he brings to the mic.  I think of it this way…Shock Sorrow rocks in a very mid-tempo realm overall…and just about anyone would tell ya that’s the most challenging to be successful in.  Rock too hard, you turn people off, rock too slow, you’ll put people to sleep…it’s about finding that balance, but when you’re singing in that gear, it can be extremely tough to get all the power & tone you want into a recording.  In short notes, we’d never notice the cracks in vocals as much – in longer ones, without the required full power behind them that you might find in a live show, we can hear that stuff a bit more.  Keith’s got the right tones & ideas for what he’s looking to create…and now it’s all about consistency in that regard, which is harder to achieve when going low-key or mid-tempo…I think he’s got room to push himself a little more still is all I’m getting at.  I don’t think anyone would object to what they hear or be turned off by the way that he sings – I’m simply advocating on behalf of the fact that I know he’s still got 10% more to give ya.  Like I was saying…the dude’s got some really spectacular moments…I love the humming at the very beginning, and I think the more power he gives his vocals, the better the results generally become.  “Survive” is a good start…and as things progress, the positivity, hope, and light begin to invade their natural darkness on this opening cut.

“Samhain” was their choice for the lead-single from the Pagan Queen EP…which is…fitting considering the date it was released on.  This would be an example of where I’d tend to run into tougher terrain on a personal level…this is right on the edge of that Godsmack-type of vibe, and that band & I will be forever at odds.  That shows up more within the verses than it does in the chorus…and credit where credit is due – I thought the harmonies were still freakin’ immaculate and completely made this track worthwhile to listen to in those parts of the song.  As far as the chorus goes…that’s where “Samhain” makes a ton of sense to have chosen as the single – that’s a wildly effective transition, and the way that this song breaks out of the dark and into the light is nothing short of magnificent.  It’s the kind of moment that every single person within earshot would notice, because it’s audibly THAT different from the way the verses sound…and as a result, in my opinion, they go from good to greatness as they surge out of the verses and into the chorus of “Samhain.”  I’ll admit…it’s a weird energy that Shock Sorrow chooses to rock within, but they clearly love it, they do what they do very well, and that’s really all anyone could ever hope for.  There’s never been a band I can think of that every person on the planet loved at once – we all like what we like and love what we love; all you can do is commit to what you do, and give it everything you got…if you can do that, like Shock Sorrow does, you’ll always find a loyal audience that sticks with ya.  They do that whole sonic eeriness thing right…solid production on their vocals and music – “Samhain” has a stellar display of the sound I feel like they really want to make overall – and as far as Keith’s vocals go, the guy really finds his vocal highlights when he reaches his most intense moments.  Harmonies-wise, thankfully, they always remind me much more of Alice In Chains.

The ethereal and haunting background vocals and atmosphere of “Whisper” work brilliantly as the song opens.  When Keith is closer to his Alice In Chains mode than in his Godsmack gear, I’m always that much more into it…and “Whisper” is much closer to that sound I like from him best.  You see what I’m saying?  Someone out there reading this right now just decided I’m completely out to lunch and that Keith’s similarities to Godsmack are really where it’s at and I’m wrong about the Alice In Chains comparisons being stronger – and that’s FINE if that’s you…calm down…it’s our differences that make this world keep on turnin.’  What I personally love about “Whisper” is that you actually get quite the array of sound within this track…there’s a little bit of that Godsmack-esque vibe at times, more of the AIC character to the atmosphere & writing – but most crucially, we get a real glimpse of what Shock Sorrow can truly be in this song, more-so than any other on the EP.  Like…ultimately, I get it…Keith’s got the lead vocals, and that’s where they’re at, that’s what they’re comfortable with.  All I’m saying is, listen to the results of “Whisper” and recognize that Shock Sorrow could potentially be even more potent and effective by splitting those vocal duties between Steff and Keith more evenly like they do in this particular song.  I’m not saying that “Whisper” really has the same level of universal appeal in the main hooks that something like “Samhain” contain, but in terms of generating sincerely interesting sound that our ears want to hear & keeps us curious as to where it will all turn next – “Whisper” has the X-factor in that respect.  As many times as I spun my way through the Pagan Queen EP, I kept coming back to this track as being its real crown jewel…not just for what it is, but for what it symbolizes in terms of what this band can go on to become as they continue to explore what they’re capable of as a duo.   I love the way they have things mixed on this album overall…credit to the production end of things, the clarity is astounding, and the way that makes songs like “Whisper” even more stunning to experience really deserves the extra accolades.  The performances you’ll find on this track are certainly some of their strongest without a doubt, but it’s also a case of everything really being on the same page from both sides of the studio boards and making sure that Shock Sorrow got the most out these great ideas.

The way they kick things into overdrive on “Homeland” is pretty damn powerful, lemme tell ya folks.  It might be brief, but it’s effective, and it makes for a killer ending to this track.  We’ll get to that though I suppose…I’m getting ahead of myself and should probably start somewhere towards the beginning.  I felt like the music of “Homeland” was really clever overall…the mix and the methods they employ here are undeniably interesting to the ears and engaging to the mind.  Keith goes for some extremely large notes…and it’d be impossible to ignore the man, but I’ll fully admit…outside of the finale where he unleashes a dose of extra venom, it was the music that really had the strongest grip on me for this particular track.  It’s another example of Shock Sorrow’s ability to innovate their own sound and the vibe they’re looking to create, you know?  “Homeland” offers something different than the rest of the set does that way, and I dig that.  Do I think they should have turned that wildfire finale into a whole second-half of this song?  Without a doubt, yes.  And perhaps they will when it comes to play this live, you just never know…as it stands here on this recording, you get about thirty seconds of the most kickass moment on the Pagan Queen EP, and it makes you want a hell of a lot more of it than we get.  Honestly, it’s so epic and spectacular that I can’t imagine anyone feeling like there’s a bigger singular highlight to be found in any dark corner of this record…and that could be something that Shock Sorrow wants to explore more in the future because of how successful this fired-up gear really becomes.  As I’ve claimed on these pages of ours many times, a single moment can sometimes make a song – “Homeland” was already pretty damn good before we get to that finale, but there’s no question that Shock Sorrow kicks things into overdrive in a way that you don’t experience on any other cut, and it’s 100% INTENSE.  I have my attachment to “Whisper” as their blueprint forward – but the end of “Homeland” definitely speaks volumes on behalf of how versatile they are, and the dimensions of sound they can build around.

“Light My Way” ends up sounding very much on the lighter side of the Shock Sorrow catalog, especially considering where we were only moments before with the speaker-melting finale of “Homeland.”  This would be one of those tracks that are interesting to examine from the critical side of things…I’m always just as intrigued by what the people out there will think about something as much as I am about whatever I end up thinking…and I always wonder about how much those two things share in common.  For me, the hooks of the chorus on “Light My Way” are definitely memorable, however traditional and somewhat tried, tested, and true they really are…I don’t think it’s the most groundbreaking moment for Shock Sorrow in that regard, but I’ll fully concede that you’ll remember the chorus the next time you hear it, and the value in that is priceless.  But if we’re talking about hooks that are engaging and natural – I’d put just about everything you’ll hear in this song surrounding the chorus as much more enticing material overall…in fact, I’d probably tell ya the band out-wrote themselves from verse to chorus on this last cut.  While the title “Light My Way” does become a lighters-up moment that you can definitely see would work in a live setting, as far as the uniqueness of Shock Sorrow is concerned, I don’t know if you’ll find it revealed so much in a moment like the chorus provides – but the rest of the song, absolutely.  I can hear that this track has got some single potential to it without question…I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that “Light My Way” would be many people’s favorite cut of the bunch in this set of five if it was…the lyrical depth and the combination of commercial appeal in the hooks both exist and have a decent balance struck between them.  Vocally, I feel a bit similar towards “Light My Way” as I did with “Survive” at the start, which brought things around full-circle for me in a different way…ultimately, Shock Sorrow has got five really strong tunes on this record that work well for them, but in my personal opinion, I feel like when it comes to everything really being in the right place and displaying their true strength, I’m probably partial to the three cuts in the middle more than the tracks at the beginning & end.  That being said, I ain’t turning anything off or turning it down…they’ve got me singing along, and I really dig the energy, and dare I say, dash of sweetness they bring to “Light My Way” in the finale of Pagan Queen – it makes for a stellar conclusion to their new EP and reveals the harmony between them.

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