Pavement Entertaniment, Inc.
When Californian outfit Atreyu launched themselves onto the scene with their debut full-length effort ‘Suicide Notes And Butterfly Kisses’ in 2002, they had already developed a sound and style that was well established and recognisable within the metalcore scene. Their follow-up releases ‘The Curse’ (2004) and ‘A Death-Grip On Yesterday’ (2006) further established the band as a force to be reckoned with. But by the time they released their fourth full-length effort ‘Lead Sails Paper Anchor’ (2007), something within the band’s sound had changed, and their fan base were left confused by the band’s experimentation with a broader melodic sound and the stripping back of their familiar metalcore sound. And while 2009’s ‘Congregation Of The Damned’ did see a return to form in the eyes of some, it wasn’t enough to hold the band intact, with Atreyu deciding to go into an indefinite hiatus in early 2011.
Without wasting any time, drummer/vocalist Brandon Saller set about getting a new group off the ground, and with the addition of guitarists Matt Pauling (Ex-The Confession), Neal Tiemann (Midwest Kings/David Cook), bassist Joey Bradford (Thieves And Liars) and drummer Kyle Peek (Midwest Kings/David Cook), The Black Cloud Collective was founded.
Within a year of being together, the band (Who had changed their name to Hell Or Highwater in May 2011) would release their debut full-length effort ‘Begin Again’ in August 2011, which despite its limited exposure (The album was released independently), was received well from fans.
One year on, and Pavement Entertaniment, Inc. have decided to give the album another shot by giving ‘Begin Again’ a well overdue worldwide re-release - in expanded form.
Anyone familiar with Atreyu’s last couple of albums will no doubt be familiar with what Saller delivers in Hell Or Highwater on the vocal front. His clean vocal efforts are fully explored here now that he’s taken on the front man role, and it’s a role that he truly excels in. But in terms of musical direction, Hell Or Highwater is something completely different from Atreyu – and not in a bad way either.
The opening track ‘Gimme Love’ is a good indication of what Hell Or Highwater has to offer for most of the album. And what we’re talking about here is modern hard rock, complete with huge distinctive choruses, a touch of punk rock in places (Namely the gang vocals and short guitar solos) and Saller’s infectious vocals that successfully bind it altogether. The bottom line is that while this track isn’t anything remotely challenging in terms of hard rock, it’s so damn infectious and likeable that it’s hard not to be impressed at just how enjoyable the song is.
‘Hail Mary!’ is a stand out with its harder edge and distinctive slide guitar work, while ‘Terrorized In The Night’ brings to mind Avenged Sevenfold in places, but stands apart enough to earn its praise. Also worthy of a mention is the guitar solo, which is every bit as memorable as the choruses throughout the song.
The semi-ballad ‘Tragedy’ is a well crafted tune that allows the band to think outside the box a little by adding a little more theatrics into their hard rock sound, while on ‘Go Alone’, M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold fame lends his voice to what can only be described as an awesome hybrid psychobilly/country classic.
In terms of personal favourites, I find it hard to go past ‘Rock Waters Edge’. Saller’s vocals really shine on this track, and the minimalistic music approach works a charm. The follow up track ‘When The Morning Comes’ doesn’t stray too far direction wise from the former, and not surprisingly is a firm second favourite.
In terms of heavier sounds, ‘Crash & Burn’ and the Foo Fighters sounding ‘Come Alive’ are great songs and sure to go down a storm on the live front, while ‘We All Wanna Go Home’ is a suitably anthem-like closer with its gang vocal choruses and building choruses.
The only song that really didn’t hit the mark is ‘Find The Time To Breath’. But given it’s the only filler on the eleven track album, the slip can be forgiven.
As mentioned earlier, this re-release is an expanded edition of the original album, with the first bonus track being the ‘Villain Remix’ of ‘Tragedy’. Although interesting, it’s not exactly the sort of track I’d return to time and time again.
Fortunately, the band’s cover of the Simon & Garfunkel 1969 classic ‘The Boxer’ is a worthy addition to the album. The final track ‘Pretty Penny’ is also a cool bonus track, but if the truth be told, the recording is clearly below the standard of the rest of the album, which isn’t likely to do the song any favours.
If you liked the clean vocal sounds of Saller within Atreyu, but couldn’t get into the band’s metalcore sound, then Hell Or Highwater’s debut comes highly recommended. If on the other hand you were a fan of Atreyu, and were hoping for more of the same thing on ‘Begin Again’, then prepare to be surprised, and ultimately disappointed.
For more information on Hell Or Highwater, check out - http://www.hellorhighwaterofficial.com/
© Justin Donnelly