A little less than two years after releasing their most commercially successful and critically acclaimed album, High Noon, Swiss hard rock band Shakra is back with a new collection of powerfully melodic, hard rockin’ tracks on the album Snakes & Ladders.
The album came out Nov. 24, worldwide on AFM Records and marks the second album that vocalist/lyricist Mark Fox has been a part of since returning to the Shakra fold in 2015 after an absence of eight years, and continues the band’s popular and creative resurgence with a record that is infused with high octane musicality and loads of energy.
“We were excited to follow up High Noon because of all the success we had from it. Our main songwriter [guitarist] Thomas Muster came to me a few months ago and said, ‘okay are you ready for a new record?’ And I said ‘if you’ve got some ideas, we can begin.’ And he actually already had written the main structure for all the songs; so all that was left to do was include the melodies and the lyrics. So we began right away to make Snakes & Ladders and it was really fast,” said Fox over Skype from his home in Switzerland.
“It took about three months in the studio to do everything. We’re lucky because Thom Blunier, our other guitarist, has his own studio and he is also the producer. So we can take as much time in the studio as we need to make the songs as perfect as possible.”
The band toured, primarily in Europe, for a good solid year after the release of High Noon and was also busy on the annual hard rock and metal festival circuit. Playing in nearby Germany, Austria, France and Italy meant they could spend time writing at home and then playing dates on the weekends, which is how most of the songs for Snakes & Ladders came together as Fox said Shakra prefers to write at home and not while on tour.
Part of the reason for the enlivened artistic atmosphere in the band and the overall sense of good cheer amongst the members of Shakra, which also includes bassist Dominik Pfister and drummer Roger Tanner, is because everyone in the band, and more specifically Fox, has grown and matured as artists and human beings. Each individual also truly appreciates one another and the opportunities they have to write record and perform their music for adoring audiences.
“I think the connection is even stronger now. We did a lot of concerts and we had a lot of success with High Noon and it made us all stronger. And being back in the band on tour was really fun for me. It was not like it was years ago. Back then you didn’t want to go on stage with someone you didn’t like and that was kind of how it was back then. The crowds may not have known what was happening in those circumstances, but they feel the negative energy coming from you. But it’s the opposite of that now, and the fans are loving it. It was a really, really great thing to be back in the band and to go on tour and present High Noon. It was amazing and never before had we had fan reactions like we did for this tour. It was a good vibe everywhere,” he explained.
“Even when I was in the band before [from 2001 through 2009] there was never a problem working together creatively. It was always an attitude problem and not really being on the same page in terms of the ideals we had for the band. Nowadays we are all on going in the same direction and we are much better at communicating, especially for me. I know I have grown up. When I joined the band I was 21 and Thomas is 15 years older than me. But when you are a young guy coming into a band, especially as the singer, you think you know everything, you think you know the world. Now I am 39 and I think before I open my mouth and I also understand it’s not all about me. It’s about what’s best for Shakra and our fans.”
Part of the maturation process for Fox was learning what it was like to run his own band while away from Shakra. He came to understand the various, sometimes conflicting elements that would tug away at a band, especially on the business side, and learned a valuable lesson in perspective, which he has brought back to Shakra.
“Now I know what the other guys in Shakra had to deal with and the problems they had in trying to work with me sometimes. So now I really understand better and it means we are all pulling in the same direction and being a real team,” Fox said.
Many of the songs on Snakes & Ladders are anthems of empowerment, with Fox as the primary lyricist encouraging his listeners to not let the fools and foibles of the world get you down. I Will Rise Again typifies this philosophy.
“This is a motivating song. You can take it as being about a relationship and getting over it, but you can also take it as being if you fall down, you can always get back up again. You have to move forward because you will rise again. You have to say to yourself the more that people push you down the more you have to tell yourself to stay strong. I think this is a message for everybody who feels depressed or feels like they don’t have any worth. It’s like I am saying, ‘get up and do something about it,’” he said, adding that Fire In My Veins is a song of a similar tone.
“Don’t let yourself fold under the pressure from the world and from other people. There is no pressure. They want to say to you that you are under pressure and if you believe it, then you actually are under pressure. But if you are doing your thing and not letting them bother you and living your life how it should be, then there is no pressure.”
The title track talks about the fact that, like the very traditional board game for which its named, as you moved along the path of life there will be ups and downs, but that it’s important to keep playing the game until the very end.
“It’s about life. Life goes up and it goes down and you never really know when that’s going to happen. But if you are living in the here and now and realize that for every time you go down, there is a great possibility that you will go up again, then that keeps you rolling the dice and keep moving forward. Sometimes when people are playing a game or struggling in life, they think they’re going to lose anyways so they quit and walk away. But the point is you shouldn’t because things can change for the better so quickly, when you least expect it,” Fox explained.
The talented singer said he also likes to use stories and metaphorical devices to make social commentary. One of the best examples of this on Snakes & Ladders is the lead-off track, Cassandra’s Curse. It is based on the Greek Myth wherein the tragic mortal woman, the daughter of the King of Troy was cursed to speak true prophecies that no one would believe. Fox feels this is what it’s like for many people who are speaking the truth, but running up against epic amounts of intellectual stubbornness and cognitive dissonance in society today.
“I am a big fan of stories and myths of course. I don’t like things to be so simple and obvious in my lyrics. I like to use stories and metaphors and get people to use their brains and their imagination. I think this song is saying that people are just imitating what other people are saying. They are not thinking for themselves. They are letting other people make up their minds for them. And it’s usually the rich guys and the mighty guys who are doing that, and those people aren’t necessarily intelligent,” he said, adding that people need to simplify their lives because they are being told they need more and more ‘things’ and more and more money to be happy, when that isn’t the case.
“So many people nowadays have all the money they need to buy all the things they could want, but they are still not happy. This is something I don’t understand. You have food to eat, you have a roof over your head, you have friends and family, you have so much more than millions of people in other parts of the world and yet we are told to want more. It’s ridiculous.”
Snakes & Ladders is coming out in digital form as well as CD and on special red vinyl; something that Fox thinks is really cool.
“We did vinyl for High Noon as well and people loved it. I am one of those guys who did have some vinyl, but I came along right at the end of vinyl and when people were mostly getting cassettes and then CDs. But nowadays a lot of people want vinyl again and I think that’s really cool because it’s a better way to experience music. You take the time to really listen to the songs on vinyl, it’s not just background. I think it’s a great thing and something we should celebrate,” he said.
Fans can celebrate any of the formats for hearing music, and also follow Shakra on their website at www.shakra.ch. Fox said the band has fans all over the world, but needs to get promoters to string a few dates together in a market such as North or South America to make it worthwhile to cross the Atlantic. But he is optimistic that with the buzz created from High Noon and the acclaim with which Snakes & Ladders has already met, that he and his bandmates will be making that journey sooner rather than later.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at email@example.com.