Welcome to part two of a fourteen part series in which I go track-by-track through CHINESE DEMOCRACY. It’s been over two years since I did the first installment on the first song…but I’m back defending Axl Rose!
I’d heard several songs off CHINESE DEMOCRACY prior to the album’s official November 2008 release, but “Shackler’s Revenge” was the first officially-Axl-sanctioned track I heard. The song was previewed in the Harmonix rhythm game Rock Band 2, which came out a month before CHINESE DEMOCRACY was released. I remember playing the game for hours the day it came out trying to unlock the song. When I finally got a chance to play “Shackler’s Revenge” I was pretty disappointed. Unlike the rough leaked tracks I’d heard, “Shackler’s Revenge” had a gritty industrial feel. I was also taken aback by the song’s production, which was busier than most hard rock songs. This negative reaction was repeated when I bought the album a month later.
Five years and many listens later, I like “Shackler’s Revenge” much more than I did when I first heard it in Rock Band. That said, this track is probably the most over-stuffed/produced track on the album. Everything about “Shackler’s Revenge” is big. The song has the most credited writers of any song on the album (five in case you were wondering). The song has multiple guitar solos and multiple guitarists. And despite this largeness, the song is the second shortest track on the record, clocking in at three and a half-minutes in length.
The track is an epic, aggressive romp through burning fields of an apocalyptic hard rock landscape. The song might not have struck me as very Guns N’ Roses-like the first time I heard it, but “Shackler’s Revenge” actually has all the main ingredients of a great GNR song. The song features lead and backing vocals from Axl, where are layered on multiple tracks creating a creepy Axl-choir. “Shackler’s Revenge” is angry and defiant with an absolute killer chorus that seems to wag a finger at all of Axl’s doubters.
GNR’s songs are also known for their guitar and “Shackler’s Revenge” does not disappoint on this end. The song features interesting guitar work from the avant-garde guitarist Buckethead and the band’s other guitarist Bumblefoot. I’m not 100% sure which one of these guitarists did the solos, but they’re fantastically explosive. I also really like the dying Galaga machine-like quality of the guitar tone.
The song’s dark, apocalyptic nature recalls the band’s previous “Oh My God.” That track, which came out on the END OF DAYS soundtrack in 1999, almost seems like a proto-“Shackler’s Revenge.” Axl has publically stated that “Oh My God” was released unfinished due to time constraints relating to the release of the film End of Days. A comparison of the two tracks is a fascinating: both have an aggressive, industrial metal feel but whereas “Oh My God” seems to be an endless gushing rant, “Shackler’s Revenge” has a methodical, demonic groove. The more refined “Shackler’s Revenge” is a testament to Axl’s tireless perfectionism. I’m not a big fan of sub-genre that the song mines, but the song has grown on me over the years. That said, releasing “Shackler’s Revenge” as the album’s first single was probably a mistake. From a business perspective, it makes sense to release the shorter more dynamic track but for my money the album’s third track “Better” would have made a better single (pun intended.
But I’ll write more about that when in the next installment of my track-by-track review of CHINESE DEMOCRACY.