by Jonathan Beatty

5/14/17

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.

 

7/10

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by Jonathan Beatty

4/23/17

 

When He is Legend announced they were going on a self imposed hiatus in 2009, many wondered if the band would ever come back, let alone return with new music in tow.

After sparse reunion shows, and a few more lineup changes, HIL dropped 2014’s Heavy Fruit (Tragic Hero Records) to high praise from long time fans and critics alike.

After heavy touring behind their comeback album, the North Carolina quartet announced they were starting a indiegogo to help fund their new album, which the band had trepidations about doing initially.

“We were very scared at first about how unpunk rock it is to do the crowdfuding situation. We studied a lot of other people’s campaigns to try and figure out the ins and outs, and what was positive about it and what was negative about it,” said singer Schuylar Croom when we sat down to discuss their new album, Few.

Few as a whole picks up where its predecessors Heavy Fruit and 2009’s It Hates You left off with its penchant for monstrous, Sabbath style riffs and off kilter rhythms that unfurl into choruses so saccharine Def Leoppard would be jealous. However that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few curveballs thrown in for good measure.

Guitarists Denis Desloge and Adam Tanbouz are a very formidable two-headed guitar attack, showcasing their ability to weave in and out of many styles, sometimes stopping on a dime to do such, all while providing ample space for bassist Matty Williams and drummer Sam Huff to add some dynamics to these songs as well.

Songs like “Sand” and “Gold Dust” could be featured on any active rock radio station and become a smash hit with driving choruses that should become crowd favorites when the album is released.

“Jordan” and “Eastern Locust” should satiate fans thirst for the heavier side of the band with the former sounding like a long lost Alice in Chains track, even down to the vocal melodies.  While songs like “Silent Gold”, “Allie Cat” and “Call Ins” lean more in the bluesy rock realm.

“Fritz the dog” slips into some vaudevillian styling’s in the verses, while Croom’s lyrics evoked strong Mike Patton vibes ala “Zombie Eaters”, before taking another shift into a mid tempo swirling groove and back again.

“I grew up buying Mike Patton’s avant-garde vocal records.  I grew up loving Faith No More, Tomahawk, Fantomas,” Croom shared of the songs unique vocal/lyrical approach “It’s definitely Mike Patton/Tom Waits influenced”.

While “Fritz the dog” seemingly acts as a palate cleanser for the albums closing tracks; “The Vampyre” and “The Garden”, with the latter seeing the band follow its trend of sending off their albums in a grandiose manner.

 

Clocking in at just over 6 minutes long, “The Garden” immediately has a different feel to it than any of the other songs, allowing its parts the room to breathe and build, thus creating some room for guests to work their magic.

“We knew that was going to be the song that needed a really insane guitar solo, like a Dimebag Darrell guitar solo,” recalled Croom of the track, “We called out to Dusty from Between the Buried and Me.  He did the solo at the end of the song.  Josh Moore (from Beloved/Classic Case) did the vocals in the middle part”

While discussing the closing track, Schuylar brought up a staple of all He Is Legend albums, the China White “series”. Croom revealed, “Heavy Fruit is a continuation of that series. In a way this (The Garden) was the North Carolina homage to the ‘China White Series’”.

Overall Few is a very enjoyable listen that keeps bringing me back for several listens, with new nuances discovered on each listen.  Some fans criticized the bands financial breakdown of this record initially, but have to say the money was well spent, as this is one of the best sounding records the band has put out.

The only negative is that at times the songs are a little too predictable in their arrangements, but doesn’t take away from the actual music presented across this album.

Few comes out on April 28th on Spinefarm records.  You can still pre order the album at here and here, and keep up with the band across their socials Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see when they are coming to a town near you.”

 

8/10

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