It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for the genre-defying SHVPES, but in 2018, the band have truly arrived. After taking their beginnings as tech-metal upstarts and joining forces with enigmatic frontman Griffin Dickinson on vocals for their highly-praised 2016 debut ‘Pain. Joy. Ecstasy. Despair.’, SHVPES rode the wave of acclaim that rapidly attached itself to their name. Armed with a refreshingly ambitious and daringly experimental brand of schizophrenic noise, they stood out from the infinite crowd of carbon-copy metallers like a sore thumb. And in no time at all, the Birmingham-based five-piece – completed by guitarist/vocalist Ryan Hamilton, guitarist Youssef Ashraf, bassist Grant Leo Knight and drummer Harry Jennings – found themselves sprawled across the pages of rock’s most prestigious magazines, accumulating thousands of views on their electrifying videos, and supporting their favourite bands on the road. <> wanted a piece of the action.
Despite the jaw-dropping hype that surrounded the budding SHVPES in these two years, though, the group found themselves struck with the realisation that they hadn’t fully unlocked their true potential. “I remember there being a dawning point,” the multitalented Griffin explains of the lightbulb moment they experienced following the release of ‘Pain. Joy. Ecstasy. Despair.’. “It just felt like we had something missing. We were saying: ‘That doesn’t represent our talent.’ We weren’t as proud of it as we wanted to be.”
And so, rather than coasting on the external triumph of ‘Pain. Joy. Ecstasy. Despair.’, SHVPES put their heads down with a newfound determination, and set to work on the full-length’s follow-up. “Straight away, it was like, ‘We need to make a better album – this obviously hasn’t hit the spot,’” Griffin remembers. “We want to make something that we’re over the moon with.” The band assembled in the picturesque surroundings of Snowdonia, Wales, and this is where they began forming their greatest songs to date.
As is the way when you’re encompassed by a group of highly-skilled musicians, the quintet weren’t short of crisp concepts for the tunes that would go on to mark the next era of SHVPES. “We had <> many musical ideas,” Griffin smiles proudly. “And we had a bunch of songs that we were like, ‘Let’s not try and turn something that’s 70 per cent good into something that’s amazing; let’s go with something that’s 100 per cent good and build on it.’” Taking inspiration from iconic hip-hop duo Run The Jewels, hardcore-meets-soul mob THE FEVER 333, legendary rap-rockers Limp Bizkit and everything in-between, SHVPES then united once more with producer Jim Pinder to nail down a more musically cohesive – but no less breath-taking – iteration of their sound.
Thematically, too, SHVPES’ brains were working overtime when they rolled up to the Treehouse Studios in Chesterfield to start recording album number two. Having collectively dealt with enough hardships to last an entire lifetime over the past couple of years – robberies, infidelities, violence, addiction, anxiety and depression – they bravely opened up in a way few would dare to. “We wanted to shine an honest and authentic look at how we dealt with it all, even if that meant it was an imperfect example of things,” Griffin reveals.
The perfect example of the band’s fearless candour comes in the form of ‘Someone Else’, a scathing insight “inside the mind of someone who’s been cheated on”. Not only does the track come wrapped up in the kind of rage you’d expect from The Incredible Hulk, it also sees SHVPES proving that honesty really is the best policy. “We wanted to give an example of real thoughts,” Griffin states. “It’s got all that anger and resentment that goes into your mind when you’re that pissed off. It’s cutthroat, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. It was one of the most brutal things to go through in life.”
The same can be said of the fiery ‘Counterfeit’, too. An uncompromising barrage of rapping, monstrous riffs and a chorus that even the most established of songwriters would envy, it shines a vivid light on the personal difficulties SHVPES have faced. “It’s a very personal song about being robbed,” Griffin sighs. “It’s very angry, but it’s almost delivered with a smile. It’s trying to make the best out of a bad situation.” Needless to say, equipped with such a belligerent retaliation to these thieves, SHVPES are having the last laugh.
Combine SHVPES’ formidable attitude with their mind-blowing fusion of hip-hop, metal, alternative rock and urban elements (as well four beautiful vocal cameos from Rosanne Hamilton, Ryan’s sister), and you’ve got colossal bangers like ‘Two Wrongs, No Rights’, lead single ‘Undertones’, ‘Renegades’ and the explosive ‘Calloused Hands’. It’s music for those who aren’t afraid of embracing a little eccentricity, and SHVPES know it probably won’t be for those with vanilla tastes. “What we’ve done is somewhat bold, but I’m not worried about people getting pissed off – they can take it or leave it. A lot of people are going to absolutely love it,” Griffin says with total poise.
And for the through-and-through metalheads, there’s still plenty to hold on to. Namely: a genius collaboration with one of SHVPES’ biggest inspirations, Matt Heafy of Trivium, on the song ‘Rain’. “It was cool to stick him on the most metal track, but put him completely out of his comfort zone on a rap section,” Griffin grins. “That just seemed like the perfect part, because we didn’t want to give him a screamy-shouty verse, we wanted to do something a bit different. We put about 10 takes of him on there, so we’ve got this vocal gang monster!”
A release overflowing with such ambition deserves a title to match, then. That’s why the band have opted for the symbol for ‘greater than’; not only because the figure itself plays off the old-school mixtape vibe SHVPES are working towards aesthetically, but because this album is surely set to take the band to the next level. “We realised that if we put out another album that was only a bit better than the last one, it would probably be the end,” Griffin admits of the release, which will, in a brilliantly unconventional way, be dropping in the form of three separate mixtapes throughout 2018, before collating itself into a full record. “We’d be maybe touring the UK once or twice a year, and playing some small club shows, and I don’t want to do that. I want this to be my life.”
Griffin needn’t worry. What SHVPES have created will catapult them into the elite leagues they’ve been preparing themselves for since the very start. And not only will ‘>’ consume their lives in this fearless new chapter; it could well take over your life, too.
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