These are strange times, and let’s face it, we could all use a lift now and again these days. That’s where High Spirits come in. One of many bands the prolific Chris Black commands, these guys have been peddling feel-good, catchy-as-hell hard rock since 2009, and Hard To Stop is their fifth full-length, following the release of 2017’s Escape! EP.
If there is one thing High Spirits have a knack for, it is crafting earworm hard rock, and Hard To Stop is no exception. Eight of the nine songs on this album have a timeless, almost instantly-recognizable feel to them, allowing one to hum along knowingly on the first listen. From the anthemic rocking opener “Since You’ve Been Gone” to the driving title track that closes the album, Chris Black and cohorts keep us tightly in their grasp, grinning ear to ear.
The only misstep, and an ever so slight one at that, would be “Hearts Will Burn,” and that only because neither the riff nor chorus stick in your mind. This is more than made up for with the following track, “Voice in the Wind,” which has to be the greatest ’80s song written so far this year. I haven’t been able to stop playing it in my mind for nearly two months. Stellar verses are paired with a simply splendid guitar melody and legendary chorus. “Voice in the Wind” is guaranteed to rank highly on my year-end favorite song list, and is also guaranteed to have you incessantly hitting the replay button.
Other highlights include “Midnight Sun,” with a classic arena-rock arrangement, and “Face to Face,” which is maybe the heaviest track, featuring a driving riff and, once again, a great chorus. And if you’re into this sort of thing, “Now I Know” comes off as a slicker, more accessible Volbeat song, with its straightforward rhythm and vocal phrasing. Like everything else here, it’s fun as hell.
It doesn’t hurt that Black enlisted the always-stellar Dan Swano to mix Hard To Stop. While Black handles production, Swano brings a fresh ear to the proceedings, and the result is a crystal-clean, perfectly balanced mix that sounds outstanding. I’m not sure how much Chris Black’s bandmates contribute here, as Black is a more than capable multi-instrumentalist, but I’ll assume it’s a complete group effort and send kudos out to all five members for laying down tight and focused tracks.
Heavy music doesn’t always have to be breaking boundaries and pushing the limits of extremity. There’s something deeply satisfying in listening to music of any sub-genre that is well-written, performed, and produced, and that’s just what High Spirits have delivered once again. Hard To Stop will go down as the top retro hard rock album of the year. Go listen to it, and let it lighten up your mood in these dark times.
(released July 31, 2020 on High Roller Records)
Heavy Music Headquarters Rating:
Listen To High Spirits – “Restless”