Sheer Mag – ‘A Distant Call’ review

Sheer Mag are one of the most loveable rock bands on the planet. Their second album is a semi-concept album about strife, struggle and the desire to overcome. There’s a defiant hero in each of these songs and, riff after riff, you’re rooting for them to win

Sheer Mag’s 2017 debut ‘Need To Feel Your Love’ packed the same punch as their initial hype-building trio of EPs (handily titled ‘I’, ‘II’ and ‘III’); these were authentic dispatches from their hometown of Philadelphia. They were groovy and gritty songs about love, lust and heartbreak that were full of heart and honesty – it was rock’n’roll that was grimier the sweaty venues and recording spaces they grafted in. Yet the LP came with a new level of songwriting maturity, tackling tackled the 1969 Stonewall Riots and Sophie Scholl, a teenage activist executed for her actions for the White Rose peace movement in Nazi Germany.

These were electrifying and potent songs about the power of the people, served via the medium of classic rock, proto-punk and beyond. On their second album, ‘A Distant Call’, they tackle rock music’s next big challenge: a concept album. Well, kinda. The band haven’t used the term explicitly, but there’s a ‘protagonist’ and an ‘arc’ to where these songs travel. That protagonist, of course, is loosely based on Tina Halladay, the band’s shit-kicking lead singer, who continues to pack an unparalleled voices that’s at once razor-sharp and oddly soothing. 

‘A Distant Call’ is accomplished and intoxicating, with brutally honest songwriting to match. On the thundering ‘Blood From A Stone’, our hero and protagonist is struggling to get by after losing her job: “What do you expect when you’re living check to check?”) but with a burning desire to survive (“It’s the same fight I’ve been having my whole life”. On ‘The Right Stuff,’ a jangling pop-leaning cut, Halladay warns haters to back off: “If you’re worried about my health / Shut your mouth and keep it to yourself.” There’s a defiant hero in each of these songs and, riff after riff, you’re rooting for them to win.

‘A Distant Call’ is a deeply personal record, though it’s laced with songs about how the individual operates on a societal level. The propulsive ‘Chopping Block’ is as forthright in its demand for change as the chugging guitar parts in the background: “Between the parties there’s no light / We need workers to unite/ We can decide to have another world / But we’re gonna have to fight.” It’s the same kind of rallying cry we saw on their last album, but the message remains potent: together, there’s a path to a better world together. But it ain’t gonna be easy…

A new studio setting with producer Arthur Rizk (Code Orange, Power Trip) might have taken the raw edge off, but the band’s no worse for it – when the album embraces new avenues and melodies, the songs still soar. ‘A Silver Line’ is light years from the point at which the group started (though there’s still grit and gravel to songs such as ‘Steel Sharpens Steel’), and the experimentation on ‘Keep On Runnin’ – think The Cure meets Thin Lizzy – is a wonder to behold.

It’s no reinvention, but there are subtle tweaks here and there for a polished record that cements their place as a kick-ass rock’n’roll band with longevity. So what’s next, then? A rock opera? A double-album? We’re listening…