(Swords & Chains 2015)
Okay, I give up. What exactly is a High Heeler? A dude who wears high heels? Someone with a fetish for ladies’ footwear? I don’t know about all that, but if you answered “a kick-ass trad metal band from Austria” you win a prize! Newly released in CD format on Chicago’s excellent Swords & Chains label (which also brought you the latest Skelator album, for example), High Heeler’s ‘Force and Finesse’ debut offers a slightly different slant on the classic metal revival that continues to sweep the globe.
Let’s start with the visuals, because after all, we hear with our eyes in the first instance. The band photos in the booklet might lead you to some mistaken assumptions. In addition to the leather, studs, bullet belts, etc., that are hallmarks of the genre, there’s a band member with fishnet gloves, another with white spandex trousers, and yes, definitely some eye makeup and lipstick. Is that teased hair? Then there are the pseudonyms: Poison Poser, CC Stiletto, etc. Some of the lyrics feel a bit, err, “glammy” too, particularly “The Touch” (“you’ve stricken me down / still I’m hot on the heels of love” and so on). And the cover painting depicts a woman in lingerie (and high heels, naturally) crawling on all fours with a flying V resting on her derriere, as a constellation of stars in the shape of high-heeled boots looks on benevolently from the sky. Confused yet? I was.
Well, once I started listening to High Heeler with my ears, instead of my eyes, it all made sense. ‘Force and Finesse’ sports the kind of powerful but overtly melodic heavy metal that bands cranked out in the early 1980s, before the genre had been stratified and calcified and subdivided into dozens of tiny impermeable subgenre boxes beyond which artists did not venture. It’s like, I dunno, Faithful Breath or Gravestone or even Breaker or Q5 or something. Riffs are powerful yet super-melodic ‘80s steel, without ever getting bogged down with intricacies or speed. Vocals are charismatic and enjoyable but kind of nasal, quirky and accented, like some of the German singers from the early to mid 1980s. Songs are simple but anthemic and catchy, with just the right amount of gang vocals and melodies that scream 1980s. There’s a purity and authenticity to the whole affair that is all too rare in the glut of newcomer true metal bands coming down the pike these days. Listen to songs like “Au Revoir” or “Metal Obsession” or the awesome “Iron Torpedo” and it becomes perfectly clear: High Heeler get it. They’ve somehow channeled the freshness and naivete of that early 1980s heavy metal spirit without coming across as copycats. ‘Force and Finesse’ is really a perfect title for this album, because High Heeler’s sound really is equal parts force and finesse, and both are executed exquisitely.
It may come as a surprise to learn that High Heeler are not a new band. While ‘Force and Finesse’ is indeed their debut full-length album, High Heeler have been slugging it out in their native Austria (a notoriously inhospitable environment for traditional-minded metal) for a decade and a half, with a fistful of demos, live EPs and VHS home videos to prove it. But that fact makes sense too, when you think about it. High Heeler’s sound and style are too refined, individualized and confident to be the result of a band just starting out. Some of these songs date back more than ten years, so they’ve proven the test of time. It’s my belief that ‘Force and Finesse’ will too. Fans of well-executed traditional / true metal that recaptures the wide-eyed innocence and excitement of the early days of our beloved music would be well advised to track down a copy of High Heeler’s debut CD before this limited-edition pressing of 500 vanishes into the ether.
~ Review by Kit Ekman~