A Brain-Rattling Album: Sheer Mag’s “A Distant Call”

Sheer Mag’s newest album A Distant Call is fast-paced, powerful, worthwhile, but more than a little painful. Lead singer Tina Halladay’s voice is grating, amplified by the boiling emotion that snakes through the album. It takes true skill to transform shrieking, bloody-curdling vocals into listenable music, let alone worthwhile, listenable music–Halladay and Sheer Mag possess that skill. Halladay’s voice begs to be heard; it’s screeching, grinding, and definitely exhausting, but it perfectly matches the politically- and emotionally-charged lyrics. That said, A Distant Call is not easy listening. It is not an album you’d throw on as background music–it demands attention. 

With a howl of “Heeeeeeelllllll yaaaaaaaaa,” the album begins. The first song, ‘Steel Sharpens Steel,’ combines strong vocals with power riffs and a shredding guitar solo. If Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock and Roll,’ Heart’s ‘Barracuda’ and Mötley Crue’s ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’  had a threesome, ‘Steel Sharpens Steel’ would be the lovechild.  

The fourth of ten songs on the album, ‘Silver Line’ slows things down and cools things off. It’s the closest the album gets to being relaxed, though it’s still a long way away from that. Infusing her shrieking voice with an undeniably impressive and uncharacteristically mellow guitar solo, it comes as a nice respite from the charging sound that runs through the rest of the album. 

Cold Sword’ spews out hard-hitting, fast-paced guitar riffs and the vocals to match. It’s punchy and packed full of raw emotion. Discussing the death of her abusive father, Halladay channels a mixture of anger and grief into her powerful vocals. Using Halladay’s words, ‘Cold Sword’ is “a bright red sound.” 

The Right Stuff’ feels like a song that would close out a clichéd ‘80s movie in which the main character discovers herself and everything is rainbows and butterflies from thereon out. Though clichéd and tried, Hallday approaches this self-actualization with a modern take, one largely influenced by body positivity. She acknowledges her otherness, but flips a big ol’ bird to anyone who has a problem with it. It’s Pretty in Pink with a punky, independent twist. 

Instrumental-heavy, ‘Keep on Runnin’ sums up the album in just five lines: “On my back/They wanna see us fall/Decay, decay, decay/But I hear a distant call/Keep on runnin.”

A Distant Call is undoubtedly worth a listen, but I’d recommend having a bottle of Advil handy. This album is a headache.