Saturday, 31 May 2014

High Spirits - You Are Here (2014) / 82%

Black shirt & white pants all the time

Chris Black is back (in black?) with High Spirits and a brand new album. The Chicago bound musician is alternating between many projects, all exploring different spectrum of traditional metal. Dawnbringer explores a psychedelic side with progressive and extreme metal influences, I'm a big fan of Nucleus, it has many intricate solos and it's quite unique. On the other hand, Superchrist is more about sleaze and rock and roll and his new project Aktor (in collaboration with one of my idols, Jussi Lehtisalo) is greatly influenced by Blue Öyster Cult. Oh and of course Pharaoh (where he only drums) is perhaps the best modern American power metal band! You could say that Black's resume is impressive in both its variety and its notoriety.

High Spirits are known to be fun, immensely catchy heavy metal/hard rock and that's what the album delivers here. But it's noticeably different from Another Night since it has a totally non metal production. Compared to the fully 80s sound of their 2011 debut album which had more to do with AOR and glam rock, You Are Here sounds like an alternative rock album. It was weird at first, I couldn't put my finger on this particular thing, I even thought I did a bad rip of the album (that I got at their first gig in Montréeal with Cauchemar and Kadavar) but my CD rip was fine! There's a certain indie charm to the sound and it weirdly fit the catchy, fast paced and short numbers of You Are Here. The sound is pretty fuzzy for a traditional metal/hard rock album and I think it doesn't fit the band's style as well as their debut.  I think the songwriting is also not as memorable this time around, perhaps not as insanely catchy either, it's a bit more moody and sad.

Composed and played entirely by Black, there's still a full band approach here and it's demonstrated on the stage as he's known to play live (where he put his focus only on the vocals) with 4 friends who are mostly members of fellow Illinois heavy metal band Züül. It's nowhere near amateurish even if it has this simplicity feel. The nine songs album isn't quite varied, it's always mostly fast paced, ultra catchy hard rocking music and it doesn't quite need to be anything else. It's well crafted with fun riffs and sharp solos. The clean, joyful vocals are probably the highlights such as the titular final track with it's entrancing chanting of “hiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh spirits!”. Their sound is at the limits of what we can consider heavy metal, it's not quite heavy and relies on hooks for the most part. Even though the themes explored here are mostly personal issues & relationships written with an almost “I'll tell you what happened to me last night while we're drinking at the bar” vibe, it's very honest and doesn't try to come off as smart even though Black is definitely capable of being nerdy (see Dawnbringer's Into the Lair of the Sun God)

We're saying goodbye
This is the night we gather.
Taking your hand in mine.
And all of the things that matter
Are frozen in time

Everything is restrained except the emotional catchiness, you can sense the author poured his heart into the songwriting, the lyrics are very intimate, perhaps even too much. You can feel he went through a hard breakup and he's using this album as an outlet. While I prefer intricate, poetic or maybe metaphorical lyrics, it's fun to read the opposite from time to time.

Influenced by AOR and 80s hard rock, High Spirits won't change the music's world but it's quite refreshing to hear this in 2014 when extreme metal seems to reign and everything gets more technical and technical, it's fun to hear such a throwback band playing it cool. I'm high on catchiness now!

No comments: