Brooklyn, NY | Richmond, VA
photo credit: Ebru Yildiz
Mp3: “Gaea (Strings)”
It can be difficult for a fledgling band to attract listeners based solely on musical merit and, while it’s not uncommon to mention members’ previous endeavors,HIGHNESS‘ debut album Hold stems from a desire to create something more than the sum of its parts, something hinted at by the contributing artists’ past work but expected by nobody. The band’s pedigree includes such varied approaches as CHRISTIE FRONT DRIVE’s heartfelt emo, DARKEST HOUR and PG.99′s frantic aggression, the expansive experimentalism of GHASTLY CITY SLEEP and ANTARCTICA, the atmospheric post-hardcore of CITY OF CATERPILLAR and FORENSICS, or the hushed ambient soundscapes of AUGHRA and YEARS – a coterie of artists characterized by an attempt to navigate their respective styles into uncharted territory. But HIGHNESS is less about what its contributing musicians have done and more about the process of reinvention and refinement to which they have spent decades dedicating themselves.
This striving for something new and different could be seen not only as a rare point of overlap between all these bands, but also as the juncture from which HIGHNESS acts as a conceptual extension. Guitarists Brent Eyestone and Graham Scala knew that they had a creative affinity rife with unexplored potential, even after several of their projects had come grinding to a halt. Both were familiar with vocalist/guitarist Eric Richter’s previous work and were eager to incorporate somebody with such a strong predilection for a memorable melody. When drummer Ryan Parrish became available after departing DARKEST HOUR, the choice to bring on board so talented a creative force required no second thoughts. And, when HIGHNESS needed a bass player a week before entering the studio to record Hold, Brandon Evans not only learned all the material, but through his unwavering opposition to predictability took the songs in directions not even imagined by the members who had written the songs in the first place.
This seamless intermingling of eclectic approaches and desire to constantly challenge both the listener and themselves render HIGHNESS‘ music a compelling listen. There aren’t many albums on which the metallic dirge of a song like “Crepuscular Rays” could exist alongside an instrumental as delicate and ethereal as “Forking Paths,” and fewer still that could be bookended by material alternately as triumphant and melodic as “Gaea” and as eerie as “Shroud” without sounding like some forced mélange of surface-level aesthetic signifiers. But on Hold, these elements not only co-exist but inextricably wind themselves around each other, with the stark contrasts acting as a cohering force and as a catalyst that pushes the music ever forward with each sonic detour, distilling a wide variety of underground music’s already-potent strains into a singular and powerful, yet multi-faceted and eclectic whole.
This sort of seemingly contradictory approach acts to underscore how notable HIGHNESS is – their work is experimental yet accessible, cerebral yet visceral, familiar yet disorienting. The members’ background in widely varied manifestations of independent music – nearly a century worth of combined total experience – is readily apparent both in the array of sonic devices employed and the deftness with which they’re combined into a unified whole. Ultimately, Hold isn’t simply an album but a journey, a defiance of artistic stasis in pursuit of something larger and more transcendent, something indebted to the past without attempting to remain immured in it, and something genuinely affecting to which a large and widely-varied audience could very easily latch on and remain adhered.