From Ice Dragon to Magic Circle and back again we’ve had our share of traditional doom metal gone garage-shaking heavy psych from Massachusetts over the last decade and a half but in the case of New Bedford based quartet High n’ Heavy this sort of authentically over the top fucked-up and ready to burn energy took far longer to tame into a doom-aimed laser sight. They’d built their house on Stooges-assed rock n’ roll and variously fiddly, messy and raw stuff to start with a self-titled debut (‘High n’ Heavy‘, 2015) sounding like it was recorded at Halloween graveyard busk. Call it heavy rock and roll, doomed garage punk n’ roll, or just solid heavy psych with fat sort of clunk to it beyond their second album (‘Born Out of Rock‘, 2016) but the fun and free-wheeling legacy of this band isn’t going to be immediate magick for folks who lean heavy on the traditional doom metal side of things, which ‘V’ brings with a passion. As a fan of obscure heavy psych/garage rock I was pretty all in on this era of the band — No doubt High n’ Heavy were red-hot and shaking it out of their trouser legs to start and, this meant they’d put out three similar-yet-different records in the space of three years; These are only worth wheeling back toward if you’re a huge stoner metal and classic rock fan, the energy is amazing on each record but hey, when do we get seriously heavy and miserable?
2019, as it turns out, was the year of the ‘Warrior Queen‘ and found the band upping their ante with a Purification (Portland) level of dingy yet passionate traditional doom with a fat wad of Black Wizard‘s ‘Livin’ Oblivion’ doom-rock meets ’79 NWOBHM stride which should’ve sent your traditional doom metal radar exploding back then. If not, and you missed out, no worries because they’re even better at it here on ‘V’ which serves as an indirect follow-up to ‘Warrior Queen’ featuring revisions to pacing and theme that cut the stoner metal brake lines, slaps away some (not all) of the keyboard buzz and rides its own crispy garage-doom wave the whole way through.
For newcomers who haven’t already soaked in just how well-received and celebrated ‘Warrior Queen’ was, you’re kinda missing out on the aforementioned wave others are riding with anticipation for this next album which, to be fair lives up to some expectations but trades a bit of its smirking wizard rock vibe for a more serious and grinding heaviness. This time around we’re asked to tune our ears toward mid-80’s doom more than High n’ Heavy have requested before. “Cleansed With Blood” might actually give folks flashbacks to ‘Magic Circle’ as it screams in with its overdriven guitar tone threatening to burst its tubes with a sped up “Electric Funeral”-esque main riff. You’ll feel the “NWOBHM in hindsight” vibe in the energetic closure of that opener but, they’ve surprisingly kept it going beyond that point with the soulful “Gather Flame”. Vocalist Kris Fortin is giving us a hi-fi 70’s blues rock performance here, coughing up a few gravel-stuffed entrails with how hard he’s pushing the poison out, and nowhere is this more savage than “Power of the Arachnid” a simple slow-motion piece that should be a “show ’em how” moment for folks who create this sort of fuzz as a passion. Side A is generally the right stuff in terms of invoking classic doom metal heaviness with the spiritus of the mid-70’s still in hand but with “Onward to Oblivion” I feel we start to take a step towards the aforementioned Black Wizard territory a bit too much, not that any one band owns a certain headspace but man does his voice begin to line-up squarely on certain phrases.
By the time we’re knee deep in Side B it should occur to most fans of this doom metal stuff that we were in it for the riffs, sure, but this is the sort of album that hedges a serious amount of its lasting value on a lightly suggested heroic narrative and puts on a show with it. The show just never gets around to its third act. All of this lands a bit nonsensical as a ride from Point A to Point B with “Rise” serving as the point of where ‘V’ gives up on connecting it’s thread of medieval high-fantasy novella-level physical drama — Tales of salvation, conquered lands, vanquishing beasts and gaining great power, etc. and starts to just have fun with stoner metal rhythm and classic Sabbathian tricks of the trade. The charisma conveyed through this generally polished yet satisfyingly earthen and noisome production is boosted beyond the norm by an odd mix of high energy doom rock songs and a darker, more serious tone where ‘V’ thrives, if only the tone of the album remained consistent and told the story that is begging to bust from the non-descript album art. I doubt the average traditional doom metal fan will balk at the class exit of “We Will Burn” but, the predictable feel of this song did a lot to fuel my major takeaway from ‘V’, which is just an inch above lukewarm.
Though they’ve got a unique voice and a flair for the dramatic, everything neatly buttoned up to a high standard, much of what High n’ Heavy are doing on ‘V’ is a play on doom metal’s classic timbre which eventually lands as a set of well-performed standards when set within a crate of the last decade in heavy psych-coated doom metal. I’d like a bit more of their original weirdness providing the “spin” on style here. I’m not at all saying this record is anything less than boss level stuff but, it exists just short of “genre” music as scaffolding to a highest traditional doom/heavy rock standard rather than a record willing to bust through its ceiling. How special a record of its sort is ultimately depends on a personal connection or, very specific taste. That said, most folks will find this record ace. The full listen is easy-going as often as it is impassioned making for a memorable, and not entirely front-loaded spin with plenty of interest throughout. A moderately high recommendation.
|ARTIST:||HIGH N’ HEAVY|
|LABEL(S):||Electric Valley Records|
|RELEASE DATE:||May 28th, 2021|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
|GENRE(S):||Traditional Heavy/Doom Metal,|
Heavy Psychedelic/Stoner Rock
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