(High Roller 2016)
Like most of you, I listen to and love many bands. But some are more special than others. Every now and then, a rare band comes along and captures not just my ears, but also my mind, my imagination and my heart. Widow did it. Night Demon did it. And High Spirits did it. If you wanted to be hypertechnical about it, I guess you could quibble with whether High Spirits are actually a “band” or not. After all, mastermind Chris Black (also of Pharaoh, Superchrist, Dawnbringer, etc.) writes, performs and produces all the music on High Spirits’ albums himself. But High Spirits are also a compelling live entity, with precisely 99 gigs under their belts and white jeans to date, and there’s a (mostly) stable and (very) talented live lineup that performs those shows with Chris Black. So, yeah, High Spirits are a band.
What makes High Spirits stand out from the crowd? Well, it’s their ability to write incredibly catchy, stripped-down, simple, high-energy, singalong, hard rockin’ metal tunes that just make you feel happy to be alive. Their music is like a stew of ‘80s trad metal and ‘70s classic rock influences, with everything from Motorhead to Riot to Kiss to the usual NWoBHM suspects, but High Spirits put this unique twist on everything to where in all honesty it sounds like nobody other than High Spirits. That said, there had to be some pressure this time around. After all, in 2011, High Spirits released an undisputed masterpiece of an album called ‘Another Night’ that was essentially perfect from the first note to the last, and has become one of my favorite albums of the 21st century. The follow-up, 2014’s ‘You are Here,’ was quite good, with glimmers of the brilliance of ‘Another Night’ on tunes like “When the Lights Go Down” or “One Thousand Nights” or “Can You Hear Me,” or of course the band’s signature track, “High Spirits.” But it’s fair to say that something was missing on ‘You Are Here.’ Some of the songs were a bit too plodding and melancholy, a bit too simple perhaps, and the production dragged down the music in my estimation.
Ever self-aware and circumspect, Chris Black shrewdly diagnosed the shortcomings of ‘You Are Here’ and devised a surefire antidote for full-length album #3. Entitled ‘Motivator,’ the idea behind this new High Spirits album is to hit the listener hard with a jolt of pure energy from beginning to end. It’s a 29-minute surge of adrenaline. It’s like a jet airplane thundering down the runway as it lifts off the ground in front of a midnight sun as the city looms in the distance. It’s an album that was crafted with the single-minded purpose of, errrr, motivating you to rock, to live, to smile, and to feel alive. Even the production is shinier and brighter, letting the marvelous guitars and the infectious melodies really pop. And it works brilliantly, this newfound laser-beam focus that animates ‘Motivator.’ Beginning with the 40-second “Up and Overture,” the listener immediately feels as if shot from a cannon as the breathless urgency of “Flying High” kicks everything into high gear. Things mostly stay at the frenzied level of excitement for the duration of ‘Motivator,’ with only a couple of slight curveballs (“Do You Wanna Be Famous” and “Haunted By Love”) to add some dynamics to the proceedings. From a songwriting standpoint, Black is firing on all cylinders on this album, with some of his catchiest and best tunes ever in the form of “Take Me Home,” “Reach for the Glory,” “This is the Night” (which will be familiar to some listeners as it’s been part of the High Spirits live set for well over a year now), and “Down the Endless Road.” The 29-minute running time passes in the blink of an eye and before I know it (and long before I’m ready for it), the record ends. So I just hit play again, and the smile immediately returns to my face as my heartrate accelerates, my toes start tapping and my head starts banging. I’ve had ‘Motivator’ for a month and must have spun it at least 20 times already, which is extremely unusual for me given the high volume of new music crossing my desk and vying for my scarce leisure time.
The question everyone is going to ask, I suspect, is where ‘Motivator’ ranks relative to ‘Another Night.’ In my mind, it’s far too soon to say. ‘Another Night’ is a quivering classic, a bona fide 10/10 album that stands the test of time. You don’t just cavalierly, nonchalantly liken a new album to such a magnum opus. It’s not fair and it’s not right. What can be said definitively at this point is that ‘Motivator’ shows High Spirits at the top of their game, with a renewed vitality and a refined understanding of who they are and why they are here, at least for now. ‘Motivator’ makes me happy. It makes me feel alive. No matter how lousy a day I’ve had, it makes me want to crank up the music, crack open a beer and start singing along at the top of my lungs. And that’s the magic of High Spirits. As Chris Black asks on “Reach for the Glory,” “How’s that for rock’n’roll?”
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~..