Eastern High – Halo Review

The year of shitty band names continues with Eastern High. If you think that moniker sounds like a high school, well, that’s because it is, located in Cardiff, Wales. In fact, the school is the top result when you search for Eastern High. But unlike its handle, the band (which is from Sweden, not Wales) apparently hides enough quality to make dear TheKenWord cuss me out for snatching it from the promo bin while he was looking the other way. As we fought to the death settled the dispute like gentlemen, I grew curious about what’s so special about this high school. Was it built upon a rift in space-time? Does the basement harbor the entrance to a hell maw?

Oh right, we’re discussing the band, not the school. Nevertheless, there is certainly something special about this five-piece. Its style utilizes basic song structures and the distantly djent-derived textures of modern prog metal with darkly addictive hooks, establishing a morose romanticism without lacking in gripping grooves. The vocals are Eastern High’s ace, however. Warm and buttery smooth but with a pronounced emotional affect, Ola Svensson mixes influences from both gothic metal and metalcore into an effective, frequently many-layered performance, grounding the theatricality of the former with the more personal pain expressed in the latter. It’s a heart-on-sleeve rendition, and certainly treads the line of the corny in places (particularly in the closing ballad). But if you are willing and able to roll with the expressive punches, it’s versatile, effective and executed beautifully.

Halo does take a bit of time to properly get rolling. Opener “Erosion of Hearts” features some poorly selected and rather patronizing soundbites that really get the album started off on the wrong foot. “Emperor” and “Notorious Enemy” are better, but still feel somewhat stilted, particularly in the choruses which are in a similar spirit as the phrase ‘I don’t know what to do with my hands.’ When album highlight “Journey” comes round, however, the band finds its groove and doesn’t let up. “Journey” builds layers of vocals to suitable bombast, driven by a moody melody rendered in a variety of ways. “Morning Star” and “Dystopia” thrive on simple but infectious melodies and big vocal hooks, the title track dives deeper into the gothic atmospheres, and while ballad “Ashes to Ashes” is a bit cheesy (no song should contain the phrase ‘never ever ever’), the emotion feels genuine and the sweet, and a sweeping solo saves the song from stagnation.

While the vocals take center stage, the remainder of the band is nothing to sniff at. The drums aren’t terribly technical but they’re a pounding force, hitting hard and precise, whipping even the more mid-paced material up to feel engine-driven and unstoppable. Meanwhile the guitars are crammed full of memorable riffs and reverberating atmosphere. The production is a tad dense, but the boost to the low end was a good choice, as it makes the bass and drums hit harder and the gloomy atmosphere more effective.

Overall, Halo is just seriously cool. It’s somehow both grand and understated, served by a solid and varied vocal approach that supplies a lot of the atmosphere and hooks that make it such an addictive album. Granted, it takes a while to get going as it stumbles out of the gate, and its obvious sentimentality may be too cheesy for those not given to such, especially considering the influence of metalcore in that aspect of the line-up. But Eastern High avoid the usual pitfalls of its core components and play to their strengths: sturdy, memorable compositions, polished but not overproduced, with a powerful melancholic spirit that keeps drawing you back in. Not bad for a bunch of high school kids.1

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-released
Websites: easternhigh.bandcamp.com | easternhigh.net | facebook.com/easternhighofficial
Releases Worldwide: July 30th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. Goddammit, they’re adult men, the damn name got me confused again!
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