by Jonathan Beatty
The amount of drummers who have started their own bands and become the front man can be counted on one hand; Don Henley of the Eagles, Phil Collins of Genesis and the most notably, Dave Grohl.
With Hell or Highwater Brandon Saller, drummer and singer for metalcore legends Atreyu, trades his drumsticks for a microphone. While the transition has been pretty seamless compared to some of his contemporaries given that Brandon has been featured pretty prominently over the Atreyu’s expansive discography.
While Hell or Highwater may surprise some of Saller’s longtime fans, there’s still plenty of familiar territory explored over the bands Spinefarm Records debut, Vista, from the pounding drums down to the downright hummable guitar leads and catchy choruses.
Album opener “Colors” is as ear catching an introduction to a new band as I’ve heard in awhile. Kyle Rosa’s driving drums propel this song into a high gear for a chorus that will be the next great sports anthem, gracing every teams highlight reel background for years to come.
The next handful of songs follow the tired and true path of bands like Hell or Highwater, with songs like “Another Good Time”, “Lighter Than Air” and “Blister” providing the standard fare of slower songs that typify bands of this ilk.
It’s not to say these songs aren’t any good, as I REALLY enjoyed “Blister”, but follows the formula that I’ve heard repeated by bands similar to HOH (those of the active radio rock format) and would like something a little different, especially with Saller’s tenure within the music industry.
“Don’t Stop, Get Up” kicks things back into high gear, while “Dame” has that nice mid tempo swing provided by guitarists Joey Bradford and Jon Hoover that will get the most lead footed individual to tap along. Faint saxophones can be heard in the background evoking memories of Aerosmith’s “Ragdoll”, but still shows the bands willingness to explore various sonic landscapes in the most unconventional means.
Some songs on this album showcased some of Saller’s influences, but a little too on the nose in my opinion. “Washed Away” is a great slower song, but comes across like an homage to one of Brandon’s favorite bands, HIM, right down to the fuzzed out solo in the middle of the song.
Curiously lead off single “I Want It All” finds its way at the end of the album. It’s no wonder why this song was chosen as the introduction to the band, this song has got some serious legs to it, thanks to Nick Maldonado’s simple groove bass lines. The band really locks in on a nice slinky vibe that has the right amount of bounce and swagger to make it a bona fide hit.
Even more impressive is Brandon’s range, which is on full display on this track. Saller really channels his inner Sammy Hagar for this chorus. Frankly hearing this song makes me want more songs in this vein and really showcases all of the bands strengths for writing instantly catchy rock songs.
“Vista” is a solid first outing for a “new” band, showing the members wide array of musical styles and penchant for catchy, hook laden rock music. My biggest gripe with this album is feeling like it could’ve been condensed down to a 6-7 song EP, as half of this album feels like retreading of other songs on this album.
I think once this band gets some more touring under its belt will become a very formidable mainstay in the active rock scene. For now, this is a solid outing filled with your standard pop rock anthems, slower songs and those familiar mid tempo songs we all grow to love.
Hell or Highwater are currently on tour with NothingMore, and then heading out with Stitched Up Heart through the beginning of July. You can keep up with the band here or across their various social media accounts facebook, twitter, instagram.
“Vista” comes out May 19th on Spinefarm Records and can be found on Itunes and Spotify and all other major digital retailers.