High Spirits – Hard to Stop Review

Hard to Stop seems an apropos title for a new High Spirits platter, as founder and solo performer Chris Black (Dawnbringer, Professor Black, Aktor) cannot easily be dissuaded from his quest to fuse the hard rock playfulness of Thin Lizzy into a metal format. On album number four, he’s once again assembled a collection of high energy rockers built around simple but effective hooks and harmonies. It’s very accessible, upbeat stuff with just enough balls to appeal to metal fans, and it’s all done in a tight 35 minutes. Are there any surprises or advancements from prior albums? Not really, though a faint prog sensibility does emerge from the ether on a few numbers. Basically, if you’re familiar with the High Spirits sound, Hard to Stop is another dose of it for better or worse, and you could do much, much worse than give Mr. Black some of your precious ear time.

Opening with the urgent gallop and stomp of “Since You’ve Been Gone,” Hard to Stop gets right down to it, delivering aggressive, quasi-speed metal riffage backed by Mr. Black’s utilitarian vocals. It’s almost like Motörhead’s little brother act, Gökarthead, and as usual with Black’s output, it’s fun, a bit quirky, and catchy as crabs. This energy level and approach defines much of Hard to Stop, with simple, upbeat rockers like “Restless” and “Midnight Sun” keeping your head bobbing. The former track opens with Mr. Black proclaiming, “I was born a running man,” which my brain hears as “I was born a running back,” and as a former running back, I appreciate this. The guitar-work on “Hearts Will Burn” has faint traces of Hammers of Misfortune in its DNA and if you strain your tympanum you can hear some Slough Feg as well.

A few songs offer something ever so slightly different than the usual High Spirit formula, like the somewhat subdued anthem “Voice in the Wind,” and “Now I Know” which sticks out due to its much darker tone, sounding like it belongs on the last Dawnbringer album or Professor Black’s Sunrise. It has that same, simplistic, Bathory-esque droning kind of riff and it’s effectively oddball when dropped in amongst the hard rocking fare. Not every song totally works, and “All Night Long” is partially undone by an awkward chorus that sounds forced, and “Face to Face” has fun guitar lines but feels a bit disposal. Still, Mr. Black is a proven hand at this kind of material and most of his ideas work and result in light, easy to digest rock vignettes.

The foundation of the High Spirits sound has always been Thin Lizzy-esque guitar harmonies. Hard to Stop is no exception, and the material proudly bears the Mark of Lynott. There’s also an ample undercurrent of NWoBHM in many of the songs, with that same borderline rock/metal style the early 80s were known for. This bag of retro tricks has served Mr. Black well in all his varied projects, and it serves him once again here, though the overall impact of this album is less than other High Spirits outings. I liked it all at first spin and the material grew with each listen, but there’s definitely a nagging feeling of “been there, heard all this stuff before” that holds me back from fully committing. Mr. Black is a solid if limited vocalist, somewhat similar to Dave Grohl, and he knows how to inject enough rock swagger and urgency into his delivery. He’ll never be anyone’s favorite singer but he fits his material well and injects his personality into the music.

Hard to Stop is another rollicking, rocking High Spirits album sure to please fans and attract a few new ears to the fold. It may not be my favorite in their catalog, but it’s a fine summer rock platter and very easy on the brain stem. It makes for a great palette cleanser between more challenging listens, and we reviewers need that sometimes. Keep those spirits high and the rock trve, Professor.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps Mp3
Label: High Roller
Websites: highspiritsmetal.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/highenergyrock
Releases Worldwide: July 31st, 2020

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