Let the spirit take you higher.
For about as long as the revival of traditional heavy metal has been raging, there have been a select few who’ve endeavored to bring back that signature mid-80s AOR sound in all its saccharine-steeped, utterly infectious glory for a new generation. Curiously enough, some of the more consistent projects seeking to resurrect this once maligned and then lost art have been prominent members of more aggressive and modern expressions of metal.
In much the same way that Bjorn Strid and Sharlee D’Angelo’s collaborative effort The Night Flight Orchestra has been making waves for over a decade playing the Swedish take on radio-oriented rock from a bygone era, multi-instrumentalist and renowned member of such noted acts as Pharaoh and Dawnbringer Chris Black has been keeping the Chicago end up with a similarly geared one-man project dubbed High Spirits. Though his take on the hard rock-leaning heavy metal style of yesteryear is a bit harder edged and lacks the heavy use of keyboards, it has run for about as long and yielded similarly exceptional results.
Standing as the 5th studio LP in 14 years of making the old new again, 2023’s latest addition “Safe On The Other Side” marks a level of cohesive, hook-driven and highly addictive songwriting that is quite formidable. Such noted acts of rock and metal antiquity such as Thin Lizzy, Scorpions, Demon and Judas Priest prior to “Screaming For Vengeance” are counted among the principle influences in shaping these ten well-polished anthems, each one an exercise in professionalism that seamlessly pulls off the illusion of a full band performing.
No instrument is neglected, though the presentation remains streamlined and to the point, with Black’s drum work opting for the most restrained and support-based approach of the instrumentation to allow his crisp, mid-ranged tenor voice and Gary Moore-inspired guitar work to lead the arrangement. Occasional flourishes of Iron Maiden’s dueling harmonies and melodic lead guitar lines adorn several of these songs, though the actual solo work proves a bit less flashy than what Murray and Smith would bring to the table, with a late-70s manifestation of K.K. Downing occasionally cropping up whenever things wander outside of the blues rock box.
As a total package, this is an album that is almost completely equally yoked, with no individual song qualifying as filler. Nevertheless, certain entries can’t help but stand a bit above the rest of the pack, with opening foray ‘In The Moonlight’ and riff happy banger ‘Anything You Need’ hitting the hardest both in terms of kinetic energy and the bite of the riff work, which reminisces upon the more aggressive rocking entries of the early 80s. Then again, the mid-paced flair and infectious odes of ‘Lonely Nights’ and ‘Loving You’ feature those signature sing-along choruses right out of the Scorpions playbook circa 1982 that just stick in one’s memory and refuses to leave.
Those seeking a harder, metallic edge with a reasonable amount of technical flair will definitely take to ‘(There Will Be) Magic Tonight’, which also sees Chris whipping out some Geezer Butler-inspired bass licks to spice things up, though his guitar work naturally ends up stealing the show. Likewise, the more stripped down and cutting rendition of early Europe song ‘Memories’ is masterfully realized, with Black’s vocal work being maybe a tad less boisterous than Joey Tempest’s original performance, but no less adequate.
Those seeking a project that tries to reinvent the wheel are advised to go elsewhere for their musical fix, as what Chris Black’s High Spirits brings to the table here, as always, is an unapologetic fit of retro-rock traditionalism that’s been done many times before, and will likely be done again by many more. Particularly those who are disposed towards the days when hard rock and heavy metal were difficult to distinguish from one another, as well as those whom fondly remember the early days of the NWOBHM where the influence of Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page had not yet fully given way to heavier precedents, will want to hear this about ten or twenty times before the end of the year. For what it may lack in modern studio gimmickry or over-the-top instrumental high-jinks, this is the sort of vintage metal that falls under the moniker of a new classic, and definitely in the running for the best traditional metal offering of the year. Lift your spirit up to the sky, and then try to soar a little higher and you’ll begin to grasp the core concept.
Released By: High Roller Records
Release Date: November 24th, 2023
Genre: Hard Rock / Heavy Metal
“Safe On The Other Side” Track-List:
- In the Moonlight
- Til the End of Time
- Lonely Nights
- One Day Closer
- Anything You Need
- (There Will Be) Magic Tonight
- Loving You
- Please Don’t Leave Me Behind
- Memories (Europe cover)
- Good Night
Order “Safe On The Other Side” HERE.
Multi-instrumentalist and U.S. metal scene veteran Chris Black’s long-running one-man heavy metal project enters its 14th year with a certified collection of old school bangers to shake up the ongoing New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal craze.