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Review: High Spirits – Another Night

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You just know. Your senses awaken. The doldrums fall away. Once again, you’re a kid, rocking the fuck out. Adults have not spoiled things with their “YouTube teasers” and “insider looks”. All that is decades of disappointment later. For now, it’s just you and the sweet sting of electric guitars. Screw unhooking bras – tearing the shrinkwrap off a new cassette tape is the most sensual experience of adolescence.

I associate that foreplay – literally, before pushing play – with edges. For me, two tapes had them: Metallica’s $5.98 EP and Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction. They were raw and electric, but I didn’t think in those terms. All I knew was that this music kicked ass. Ponderous dissections of classics were years away. I loved feedback, cowbell, and the crackle of live cables penetrating guitars.

Metal has many feelings, and I prize most of them. But the one nearest to my heart is that initial rush of electricity. I still hear flashes of it from newer bands, usually on demos before proper recordings smooth out their edges. The primal union of axe and amp – preferably with nothing in between – is why we are gathered here today. It’s really technological control of fire: sparks, heat, danger.

Another Night (self-released, 2011) isn’t dangerous, at least in the way Motörhead and Slayer are. But it’s risky in another way. It dares to have fun. It’s a very specific kind of fun. Most records these days that sound like this are ostensibly about fun, but are really no fun at all. All this Iron Maiden and ’80s metal worship is as cynical and calculated as any other trend. “Look at our bandanas!” “See our retro-style artwork!” Musicians who make this type of music are often preening douchebags.

Chris Black is not a preening douchebag. In fact, from what I can tell, he’s the opposite. When I interviewed him, I got the impression that he held his nose the whole time. This site is not for purists, and Black is a metal purist. He holds harmonized solos and twin-axe attacks to be self-evident truths.

Dawnbringer is his most prominent project, and justly so. It is serious metal, meant to last a while. Black’s other projects are varied. Superchrist is sleezy, because old-schoolers wearing patches like to spell that word that way. Pharaoh, for whom Black drums, is slick power/prog metal. And I don’t know what Black is doing in Nachtmystium. I’ll just chalk it up to knowing other musicians in Chicago.

Point is, Black seems like a guy who doesn’t laugh. But High Spirits, which on record is all Black – music, lyrics, instruments – is definitely the product of someone who laughs. Either that, or Black is the most earnest lover ever and puts on Supertramp to seduce chicks. In this day and age, it takes chutzpah to write a record completely about love and rocking out, and to completely deadpan it and not take it over-the-top like, say, Andrew W.K. or Eagles of Death Metal. Does the oh-so-serious Professor Black really mean it when he sings, “I’ll be back – And I’ll make you mine”?

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Actually, I think so. Metal is music by dreamers by dreamers. I think even the most hardened purist would agree. That’s the feeling that ’80s and early ’90s metal often has, when templates weren’t set yet, and bands still tested the boundaries of what could be done. “Let’s go out on a limb. Let’s try something new. We could fall flat on our faces, but at least we tried”. The best metal dreams like this; the best lives love like this.

I don’t think Black could make a truly ironic record. This one doesn’t feel ironic, anyway. It does make me want to find a babe and a Camaro, and to have that be our engagement photo. If only people made one feel as good as this record does! You want the mate who’s there not only for good times, but also for darker ones. That’s what gives this record an edge, what makes it not just party music. Again, because Black deadpans it, the darkness isn’t immediately obvious. But it’s there, in songs like “You Make Love Impossible” and “Where Did I Go Wrong”. “Demons at the Door” could almost be a Dawnbringer song. You’ll find this hidden darkness in many ’70s radio hits, but not in later imitations which capture style without substance.

Now we can put down the liner notes, which feature gorgeous photos of nighttime Chicago. (How about that title font! Miami Vice!) We can get down to business, which is rocking out (and if one gets lucky afterwards, loving). These are some of the best arrangements I’ve ever heard in metal. In Flames’ harmonized leads sound like Mortician in comparison. For a “fun” record, there is an incredible amount of detail – partially harmonized solos, subtly harmonized vocals. I’d easily put this up there with Dokken’s best in terms of musical sophistication, and that’s 100% a compliment.

But the execution is rough ‘n’ ready. It has that edge. Sanford Parker was involved at some point recording-wise, which no doubt helped make it beefier than the demo sound High Spirits had previously. The sound is raw, it gets the blood moving, and it brings to mind lofty references – the time I saw Christian Mistress, one of the purest, most vital metal shows I’ve ever seen, and the first two Iron Maiden records. The latter two are huge shoes, and, yes, Black tries them on often. Boy, does he love what I call “the Iron Maiden chord progression”: VI – VII – i. (For a 65-minute exposition on this chord progression at low speeds, see Atlantean Kodex’ The Golden Bough.) But, to be honest, I prefer Black’s take on it. Iron Maiden don’t make me want to find babes and Camaros.

So we have babes and Camaros, and zipping around Lake Michigan with them at night. A man can always dream, right? Another Night, another lifetime – one of high voltage and dusky eyes.

— Cosmo Lee

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HEAR ANOTHER NIGHT

“Where Did I Go Wrong”

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“I’ll Be Back”

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BUY ANOTHER NIGHT

Amazon (MP3)
CM Distro (CD)
Planet Metal (CD)
Forgotten Wisdom (EU) (CD)

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