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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Album Review: Zombie Shaker Box - Encrypted

Zombie Shaker Box - Encrypted
2010 Zombie Shaker Box
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

As this album was released more than a year ago, this is more or less a public awareness exercise. Vegas-based Zombie Shaker Box is the brainchild of Kirk Hulshoff, co-founder along with Lizzy Borden bassist Marten Andersson of Legacy. Winners of various west-coast rock awards in 2009 and 2010, Zombie Shaker Box could be, in titular theory, the more straightforward version of Wednesday 13. Not quite, though.

Honestly, the only real schlock behind Zombie Shaker Box is its name. The ten songs comprising Encrypted are more in tune with a rump thumping jam feel and a more-than-occasional Alice in Chains-meets-L.A. Guns brooding session versus a festive horror-metal roast.

Encrypted was conceived and fronted by Hulshoff with a cotillion of guest performers, amongst them three artists who would go on to comprise Zombie Shaker Box's performing roster: bassist Cory Kay, guitarist Chris Blakely (though credited to Jami Lin in the album's liner notes) and drummer Tomonori Sugiyama. For the album's purposes, this is more or less Hulshoff's show as principal writer--with numerous musical contributions from outside sources such as Chris Poindexter, Ron Broad and Rod Heiden, amongst others.

Most folks coming to Zombie Shaker Box have cited a parallel between Kirk Hulshoff and the late Layne Staley. True dat. There's also shades of Axl Rose and Sully Erna, though Hulshoff avoids gratuitously veering towards either side. Hulshoff's vocal concoction has a decided throwback cadence not quite in the gunslinging higher octaves such as Jeff Keith of Tesla. Yet you're going to weirdly think of Tesla and the better downhome rockin' bands of the late eighties along with Alice in Chains, which seems to be where Hulshoff feels most comfortable in this project.

While "Welcome to My Rave" and "Blow n Smoke" come crashing out with a picked-up pogo verve to them, much of Encrypted then slips into cross-section of moody ambivalence merged with a deliberate beer-over-the-knee kickback slump. "In Loving Memory," "Cry," "Tigerlilly" and "Hideaway" are hardly happy pills, but they all have a subtle slide, much as the listener might want Hulshoff to pick the pace back up, given the energetic start of the album.

Don't expect it, because Encrypted only amps up again on "Industry Witch" and "Gates of Hell," (both as blatant a nod to Alice in Chains as any on this album) and only at a mid-tempo jack, at that. The final track "Ashen" is flung somewhere between Alice in Chains and Jane's Addiction, a dusty, calypso drift lofted by the forlorn guitars of Chris Poindexter and the haunted bongo swirls of Rod Heiden. In its own way, "Ashen" sends Encrypted off on a breezy note of class.

While a band name such as Zombie Shaker Box invites something far different and more chum-oriented than what Encrypted delivers, there's a certain appreciability for what Kirk Hulshoff is trying to accomplish here. Staley acolyte he may be in this venture, there is a comfy-sounding shuffle and drag to most of these tunes. In that respect, perhaps Zombie Shaker Box isn't such a misleading moniker after all.

Rating: ***1/2

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