Probably the first world-class heavy rock act to emerge from New Zealand (a country not well known for its tradition of metal music), Shihad have had a tumultuous history, full of stylistic shifts, accusations of 'selling out', name changes and acrimonious record
deals. Despite this, however, they have continued to write and perform
rifftastic heavy rock for fans throughout Australasia and the world.
Once dubbed the weediest man in rock, Jon Toogood is the vocalist and guitarist for Shihad. A frontman with a penchant for crowd surfing, speaker stack diving and foot-on-the-monitor-ing, he is the usual focal point for the band playing live.
Karl Kippenberger replaced former bassist Hamish Laing very early in the band's career, and has never looked back. He lays down basslines and contributes backing vocals.
Phil Knight is the lead guitarist and synth player, who eschews extended guitar solos for more emphasis on heavy and melodic riffs.
Tom Larkin is the distinctive and world-class drummer who provides the essential backbone to the guitar-based onslaught of the Shihad sound.
Churn, churn, churn
There is a season
Churn, churn, churn1
Formed in 1988 by Toogood and Larkin while still at high school, Shihad (whose name was misspelled from a reading of 'jihad' in the science fiction novel Dune) began life as a Metallica-worshipping metal band. They quickly developed a reputation as a brutally heavy live act in their home town of Wellington.
As the band matured, they began to take in influences from more distinctly New Zealand (NZ) acts such as the Skeptics and Bailterspace (and other music on the iconic NZ record label Flying Nun). This led to a falling out with original bassist Laing, who left and was replaced by Kippenberger.
In 1991 they put out their first release, an under-promoted EP called Devolve, which made significant inroads into the New Zealand charts. It drew the attention of Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman, who was living in New Zealand at the time, and he entered into talks to produce their first long player - this was Churn, which was released in 1993. It enjoyed more critical and chart success, but the recording experience wasn't a happy one: Coleman was difficult to work with, and fell out with the band at one stage during the making of the album (the song 'Bitter' on subsequent album Killjoy is about Coleman).
All you faces in a race
You've got your number - you've got your place
Keep pushing through thick and thin
Collect what you can before winter sets in
The negative experience of making Churn (and Larkin's subsequent experience playing drums on the recording of Killing Joke's record Pandemonium) led Shihad themselves to take the bulk of production duties for their follow-up album, 1994's Killjoy.
Here their NZ influences were more apparent - the opening line to 'You
Again' mimicked the ballad 'I Hope I Never' by renowned NZ band Split Enz
- but the sound had at the same time become more melodic and more
distinctly Shihad's own.
Following the release of the record with frantic touring in NZ, Europe and the USA, high-energy live shows won many fans, including such rock luminaries as Iggy Pop ('Shihad are a f---ing good band') and Ministry's Paul Barker.
Encouraged by this, the band experimented with rockstar behaviour. Unfortunately, they were still not a wealthy band by any stretch of the imagination, so drummer Larkin (also the de facto accountant for the band) calculated that the most expensive thing they could afford to throw through a hotel window was a toaster. They did it anyway - where it almost hit a passing Mercedes.
The 'Fish Album'
I'm not ashamed to cry
Sometimes it feels just good enough to feel something
Following on from the tragic death of their long-time manager, Gerald Dwyer, from a drug overdose, the band released their third album in 1996, a self-titled record dubbed 'The Fish Album' due to its cover art. Widely considered to be the band's least focused record, it is certainly the most stylistically diverse, with diversions into string-assisted ballads offsetting other more pop-friendly rock songs.
Nevertheless, the album spawned the anthemic single 'Home Again', with its lament for friends and family half a world away in NZ. This song is probably Shihad's best-loved song in New Zealand, a country which is geographically isolated from the rest of the world and has a tradition of its brightest and best spending significant periods of time overseas.
The General Electric
I trust the police and the government
Suck down corporate sentiment
Home for dinner, watch TV
Caught in the middle of a shopping spree
My mind's sedate
-My Mind's Sedate
After a return from further touring with the Blue Light Disco EP, Shihad went to Vancouver to record their fourth album under the production auspices of GGGarth Richardson (so nicknamed because of his stutter), whose other notable work included albums from Rage Against the Machine. The resulting record, The General Electric, became the Shihad's biggest selling album to date and gave the band a lot of exposure in Australia (where they had previously had only modest success).
The Pacifier Years
On the strength of The General Electric Shihad signed a deal with The Firm, a large US management company. The company organised producer Josh Abrahams, whose credits included such musical visionaries2 as Limp Bizkit and Staind.
During the recording of the album, the terrorist attacks on the USA in 2001 forced the band into an uncomfortable position. Their record label wouldn't release their record while they were still called Shihad - a name that still sounded too close to jihad for comfort in a post September 11 world. The band went through several names, some serious (but already taken, like Remote, Killjoy and The Had), some not (Jonny and the Toogoods, Osama and the Bin Ladens). Eventually they settled on Pacifier, the title of a song from The General Electric. This adoption of a device normally only seen between the lips of small infants produced bemusement and cries of 'sellout!' over in Australasia, with Australian band Frenzal Rhomb immediately announcing their (mock) name-change to Shihad in order to win over the real band's fanbase.
The eventual release of the self-titled Pacifier record3 in 2003 didn't help matters. Abrahams had given the band an overtly American sound, had pressured to tone down the band's trademark anti-materialistic lyrics and had pushed Larkin's drumming almost into irrelevance in the final mix. The record was promoted with expensive, unremarkable videos (leaving less cash for showcasing the band's best asset, its live show). The album never achieved wide release in the USA, despite the song 'Everything' appearing in the forgettable teen movie Swimfan.
Return to Shihad
Chop the tree down and replace it with nothing.
They kill ideas at the push of a button.
Pull your strings, do your thing.
You're just a puppet, right?
-All the Young Fascists
Disillusioned with the USA, Pacifier returned home to New Zealand, where their live shows continued to be well received (chants of 'Shihad, Shihad' notwithstanding). They released an overdue live album, before retreating to an isolated farmhouse in the NZ countryside to write songs for their most recent album. Here they decided to drop the Pacifier name and revert back to Shihad.
Released in May 2005 and entitled Love is the New Hate, the album was recorded by GGGarth, the producer behind The General Electric, and released under the Shihad moniker once again. The band's experiences in the USA shone through in the lyrics, particularly in 'All the Young Fascists', a song about a festival they had played in 2003 which had been altered at the last minute to a 'Support the Troops' rally for the nascent Iraq war - a war which the band abhorred. The final straw was apparently the appearance of a shooting booth at the festival where concert-goers could shoot at effigies of Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein - and Jacques Chirac4.
With a new album, an old name and the southern part of the world at their feet once again, Shihad's career will no doubt take more twists and turns. But their music will remain as the South Pacific's contribution to the world of hard rock, now that they've come home again.