Posted on May 30th, 2013 (9:00 am) by Ryan Kaplan

Being pretentious and being a musician tend to go hand-in-hand. As a pretentious musician myself, I often listen to music and think “I wish this part was a little harder and/or more melodic and/or extended and fleshed out.” I often think I could be such a big help to bands, and it’s not often that I find an album that goes above and beyond anything I could hope to create myself. Hold by Highness seems to be the anomaly.

Highness are a supergroup of sorts, featuring members from Darkest Hour, Antarctica, Pg.99, and City of Caterpillar, but you wouldn’t know it from the way they present themselves. The band is itself a cathartic creative release for a group of musicians who needed new surroundings to achieve their full potential. Guitarists Brent Eyestone, Graham Scala, Eric Richter, drummer Ryan Parish, and bassist Brandon Evans give their own experimental take on old-school emo and post-hardcore, blending melody with aggression into something both accessible yet musically complex, and it makes for one of the year’s best debuts.

There is an electricity that surges through this record. The triple guitar assault is enough to blow you out of your seat, never mind the massive rhythm section that tramples over you afterward. The guitar tone on this record is perfect: thick, dingy distortion with crunchy lows that don’t dirty the sharp highs. The drums are consistently on point, as Parish manages a heaviness that doesn’t hold back loose, spontaneous playing, and the bass on this record is just phenomenal. The tone is fat and meaty, and Evans is a very melodic player, weaving his low end attack through the haze of guitars.

Yet all of that power is being channeled into emotional, moving music. The guitars spiral together into an atmospheric, soaring cascade of riffs. The vocals are raw and passionate, and the lyrics flirt with typical emo topics. The music stirs you to feel, whether it’s aggression, sadness, or elation, and that’s surprisingly difficult to accomplish.

“Gaea (Strings)” is a triumphant lead-off track, featuring dynamic, upbeat drumming, exciting, fresh melodies, and some cool bass lines. “We’re All We Need” is a slower, waltzing number with harmonizing guitar riffs that erupts into the best chorus on the album. At six and a half minutes long, Highness does a great job of making the length count with slow crescendos and a solid instrumental bridge. “Crepuscular Rays” is another muscular track with tribal tom drumming and dual-wielded guitar licks. Transition tracks like “Forking Roads,” an all-acoustic, instrumental ballad, and “Shroud,” an ethereal, spacey number that leads into the album closer, help spread out the distortion and add dynamic depth to the album.

My only real complaint with the record is Richter’s vocals. He’s not the strongest singer, but he is usually able to overcome that. When the guitars are screeching and the drums are pounding, his voice bursts through the fray in a glorious way. His voice has a lot of character in it, very much like the way Bob Dylan’s or Jeff Mangum’s voices do, yet unlike those two singers, Richter can’t quite pull off the quiet moments with the same grace. His voice in the beginning of “Gaea (Strings)” and in “You Know Everything” is laughably nasal, and though it’s certainly part of his charm, if he just opened up the back of his throat a little more, he’d actually be able to hit the notes and avoid sounding like a 13 year old boy (there I go with my pretentious criticisms).

Other than that minor annoyance, the rest of the album is virtually flawless. Each track is well-executed, emotionally charged, instrumentally deep, and adrenaline-inducing. Hold is a smart, challenging take on emo and post-hardcore music, and I couldn’t have done it better myself.

Track List:
1. Gaea (Strings)
2. If You Found Out, I Would Stay
3. Stitched Together
4. Forking Roads
5. We're All We Need
6. Crepuscular Rays
7. Shroud
8. You Know Everything
9. Stars Pass Us Over

Highness, Hold, review, emo, post-hardcore, Ryan Kaplan
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

79 / 100
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