High Command – Eclipse of the Dual Moons Review

For me, 2022 has been chock-full of highly anticipated albums from returning favorites, so it’s only fitting that my last review of the year should be more of the same. Three years ago, I told you not to miss Beyond the Wall of Desolation, the debut full-length from Massachusetts band High Command and late addition to my year-end list. When I first heard that record, I immediately fell in love with the band’s epic, fantasy-themed crossover thrash and was impressed by the way they were able to take a bunch of old-school, typically aggro styles and mash them together into something oozing with grandeur. I really enjoyed the band’s 2020 appiteaser of an EP, Everlasting Torment, and in that year’s EP round-up, I can be seen expertly predicting thusly: ‘Everlasting Torment shows that High Command have not missed a beat and are merely biding their time until their next full-scale invasion can commence.’ Well, you better raise the bridge, man the parapets, boil the oil, and prepare to eat your neighbor’s flesh, because siege warfare is upon you, and when High Command eventually wear down your defenses, they will not be taking prisoners.

The boys in High Command are self-proclaimed fantasy nerds, and their entire discography exists to tell the overarching story of their original mythos. But where most bands of their thematic ilk opt for power metal or traditional heavy metal, High Command choose to tell their story in such a way that it lands like Tolkien, Howard, and Moorcock read through the lens of Kill ‘Em All, South of Heaven, and Beneath the Remains. On Beyond the Wall of Desolation, classic heavy metal elements could be heard throughout, and Eclipse of the Dual Moons sees that influence pushed even further forward. Add to that a few atmospheric, soundtrack-style passages, and the listener can’t help but be pulled into the story. Embedded single “Imposing Hammers of Cold Sorcery” is an excellent example of the band’s strengths with its creepy, clean intro that feeds into a satisfying, mid-paced Slayer groove. The song builds and builds to a boss fight delivered via a killer old-school thrash section before exiting with some guitar histrionics and atmospheric touches.

If High Command’s debut was a crushing mace, Eclipse is a carefully forged, finely honed sword. Everything feels sharper and more to-the-point, and the band’s sound is coming into its final form. The opening title track wastes exactly zero time setting the tone as the band jumps in at full blast with the guitars mid-solo. It’s a relentless thrash monster that foretells the oncoming storm, both musically and thematically. The penultimate track, “Siege Warfare” is its only match when it comes to straight-up thrashers, though, because every other track incorporates at least some form of contrasting texture. “Immortal Savagery” sounds like NWoBHM with early Celtic Frost guitars, “Fortified by Bloodshed” calls upon the mighty Hammond organ to give it some old-timey swagger, and “Omniscient Flail of Infamy” backs one of the most awesome spoken-word passages of all time with a militant groove intro to tell its tale of magical weapon procurement. And finally, the massive closer “Spires of Secartha” showcases the final battle with twists and turns, ending with some Ennio Morricone-inspired delicacy.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about High Command is their ability to channel a bunch of old styles and well-worn tactics into something genuinely fresh and vital. There were naysayers in the comments of Beyond the Wall, and there will probably be more below, claiming that the band’s sound is derivative and stale, but I can’t for the life of me understand this at all. Yeah, I hear Metallica and Slayer throughout this record, but I’m never compelled to listen to one of those bands instead. In fact, High Command has reached a level of storytelling that those bands could never attain, and while the music this band creates stands apart on its own merits, the integrated mythos allows for extreme levels of immersion. Guitarists Mike Bonetti and Ryan McArdle have to be one of the most impressive thrash duos active right now, and vocalist Kevin Fitzgerald gives a truly venomous performance as he tells his epic fantasy tale. Eclipse is eight tracks clocking in at 50 minutes, but you’ll be repeating it before you know it.

Eclipse of the Dual Moons is a special record. The other day, I read the lyrics while giving the album a close listen, and as it came to an end, I found myself breaking my self-imposed, no-vinyl rule; I simply had to own this record in its largest format. Just when I thought my Top 10 was coming together, the High Command trebuchet launched a last-minute list-breaker into my lap. Eclipse is an Album o’ the Year contender and one of the finest thrash albums I’ve ever heard, period. ‘Let the bells toll in victory,’ indeed.

Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Southern Lord
Websites: highcommandsl.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/highcommand
Releases Worldwide: November 25th, 2022

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