Monday, May 19, 2014

High Spirits - You Are Here (2014)

High Spirits is clearly the antithesis of modern day's metal mainstream. Skim over their latest release, You Are Here, and you'll find loads of hooks, uplifting melodies, and lyrical content applicable to every day life with little trouble.

The band has an excellent handle on what made the 1980s so great and, as part of what many coin the traditional heavy metal revival, is at the forefront the sub-genre's reemergence in numbers. Since the conclusion of the 1980s, when acts like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and others thrived, heavy metal, in its most basic form, has sat seemingly dormant underground, with releases trickling in surreptitiously until rabid fans furiously dig them up to get their fix.

Chris Black, known for his tenure in Dawnbringer and Pharaoh, has perhaps the best grasp on the sub-genre from the plethora of bands trying their hand at the style. Rocking riffs, upbeat tempos, and choruses that ripen with each listen--growing deliciously golden as they finally reach their full potentials--typify Black's songwriting and make a sound argument that traditional heavy metal never died, despite the claims in the nineties.

High Spirits' second full-length, You Are Here, picks up where Another Night left off and carefully quality matches its predecessor's material, in terms of style. Even so, there are differences, especially when one compares the production values, which range from beefy and thick (Another Night), to thin and and relatively tepid sounding (You Are Here). You Are Here's problem, if any, is that the production could use work and, without Another Night's sonic punch, appears like a half-baked attempt at recapturing the debut's success.

Look past that, however, and the music is essentially the same, and even a smidge better than the debut. No doubt is not it as immediately hooky as Another Night, but with repeated listens it rewards for the time spent with the material. You Are Here goes from good to great to excellent, if one is willing spin the record upwards of five times to really make it stick.

Interestingly enough, and despite You Are Here being High Spirits' second full-length, only now did a self-titled ("High Spirits") track surface in the Chicagoan five-piece's discography. More often than not, these types of songs are better suited for the debut, as they sum up what the band is about earliest in their careers and give listeners a good idea of what an artist is about. But there was no need for that with High Spirits; from the first track on either of the records, one has a good idea of what the band is going to sound like from the get-go, with simplistic, catchy riffs the main driving force behind their music.

From the track roster, it's easy to immediately proclaim "The Last Night" as the best of the bunch because it was chosen as You Are Here's single, but careful listening reveals that "I Need Your Love"--a rocking, energetic cut--is on par, if not more sharply written. "High Spirits" also delivers some of the heaviest riffs on the album and a wonderfully layered chorus, which is a rarity for the band and a complete shocker, given the production values. Normally, High Spirits prefers a stripped down sound, but adding a few additional layers here and there transforms their music and recalls another Black project, Dawnbringer. "I Will Run" benefits from the inclusion of a clean guitar part before and during its chorus as well--there's really not much to dislike on You Are Here, because the subtle divergence from the debut only improve what was already a winning formula.

In the end, You Are Here is a step up, however little, from Another Night. Despite the thin production and slightly less accessible nature of the music, a number of real gems, like those mentioned above, call You Are Here home and help push the five-piece's material up another notch. Another Night is no failure, mind you; You Are Here just goes the extra mile, and that can make all the difference when it comes to a record chock full of straightforward heavy metal music.


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