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High Tide - Sea Shanties CD (album) cover

SEA SHANTIES

High Tide

 

Heavy Prog

3.79 | 163 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
4 stars High Tide has often been cited as being "Iron Butterfly with Jim Morrison as the frontman," or, "proto-mid seventies King Crimson." Both these descriptions are interesting for sure, and are guaranteed to spark some images of what the band's sound is like. But neither could possibly hint at what High Tide is actually about...

Okay, actually, they do hint very nicely. High Tide as basically the masterful combination of guitar and violin (in this case, Tony Hill and Simon House respectively), played with as much heaviness and gloom as poor lil' 1969 could muster. In fact, taking into account when it was recorded, Sea Shanties might actually be THE heaviest album ever recorded. Fancy that! And even if you don't agree, you'll have to agree with the various learned men with tall foreheads and too much time on their hands that Shanties is some kind of an out of place mutant hybrid, a bastard father to progressive metal, Goth rock and Larks Tongues in Aspic all in one package.

Case in point: we open the album with "Futilist's Lament." The lyrics pretty much sum up what the title says: we're all screwed, and we're gonna die, sung in a fantastic Morrison style deadpan by Hill. But it ain't the lyrics; it's the riffage that counts. There's a huge, HUGE riff, smashing through your speakers, and it's only augmented by something that was PROBABLY a violin at some point, but now just sounds EVEN HEAVIER THAN THE GUITAR! AWESOME! But don't think that House's instrument is a blundering club; the interplay between Hill and House in the midsection proves otherwise.

But my bet for best track is the unstoppable nine minute instrumental "Death Warmed Up," a sprawling, swarming, riff and solo fest for Hill. House won't let him have all the fun though, and the best parts of the instrumental occur when the two musicians match each other note for note, with the guitar and violin swapping spots in your speaker until you honestly CAN'T tell the difference between the two. The rhythm is tight, the riffs are ever changing, and it's only at the end that it gets monotonous. But you know what? I don't care!

Nothing on the album is ever quite that heavy (hell, nothing in their career was), but sit tight, the fun isn't over yet. "Pushed, But Not Forgotten" introduces us to a slightly softer side of High Tide, with a pleasant violin and vocal led melody that's reminiscent of early King Crimson...until it takes a turn for the violent mid way through. "Walking Down Their Outlook" is another "heavy ballad," much more Doorsy than Crimsonian, with some excellent classical riffage at the center (an excellent spot for House), and a nicely eerie ending.

"Missing Out" is another nine minute monster, although nowhere near "Death's" entertainment value. Still, it IS an interesting track; it seems to be one of those blues epics I like to talk about so much. Hill drops the Morrison deadpan in favor of a bizarre cross between Roger Waters and Peter Hammill. Additionally, it's probably the only track that actually gets to me timewise. I mean, it ain't BAD; there's ample blues riffage and improv, but there's a drum solo in it fer goshsakes! Yes, a small one, but it's there.

In the end, "Missing" slides flawlessly into closer "Nowhere," another nicely played Goth rocker, with excellent riffage. The lyrics are slightly more interesting this time around, and there's more interesting guitar/violin interplay. A good ending that sums up the album pretty nicely.

High Tide is more than an original curio, or a cute entertainment. It's a good album! Anyone who counts himself as a fan of the mid-seventies Crimso lineup will do himself a favor by checking them out. In fact, I'd go as far as to wager that Hill and House are a better pairing than Fripp and Cross. Okay, so maybe they don't have QUITE as many tricks in their respective books, and certainly Crimso had four virtuosos rather than High Tide's two, but Hill and House are much, much better at playing off each other's strengths and weaknesses.

So we're set from a musical point of view (the mix is a little crumby, if you care, but this ain't a Motorhead bootleg or anything). The lyrics are...not terribly impressive. Hill can't be accused of real poetry, but on the other hand, he can't be accused to lame imagery. The lyrics aren't hard hitting, but they're very far from pedestrian "evil" lyrics, I'm happy to say. The delivery may be similar, but High Tide won't suck you in with a Morrisonian lyrical approach. However, if you let the swirling, bleak, watery atmosphere surround you, you just might be hooked.

I must warn you: nothing you hear will prepare you for High Tide. It is certainly heavier and darker than Iron Butterfly, the Doors and King Crimson would dare to probe at this point. It's also pretty darn monotonous. Heavy, dark jams are the word(s) of the day, and if you aren't prepared for that...well then, you're just going to hate this band's guts. But that's really not a very wise thing to do.

High Tide are not the world's most underrated band, but they have a special place in my heart at least. Largely because they're loud. And depressing. And that's pretty darn cool in my book.

(HEY! Sea Shanties comes with BONUS TRACKS!!! Now, before you run off screaming in the night questioning God why, I suggest that you take a listen to these things. “The Great Universal Protection Racket” is an epic instrumental that managed to evolve into something else pointless every couple of months (I think it ended up becoming “Saneonymous,” believe it or not). But, for the moment, it’s an epic alright, and not just because of the length; “Protection Racket” spans the stylistic gamut from the standard heavy Goth, jazz freakouts, and calm-before-the-storm-folk you’d expect from the band, but also verges into proto-metal with an Asian twist (!) and, get this, pop songs (!!!). None of this would matter, of course, except that some of the riffs are pretty choice (the ominous opener and that Asian riff, for instance). Repetitive? Sure, but is High Tide we’re talking about. “Dilemma” is a gloomy rocker that alternates between furious, heavy riffage and gentle, almost pleasant, vocal melody. May not be the best thing the band ever produced, but it’s sure as hell interesting. Best bonus. The early version of “Death Warmed Up” is not as long or as heavy or as internally propped up as the album version, but it IS faster. So fast, in fact, that the rhythm section struggles to keep up sometimes (especially the drummer). Pity that. “Pushed, But Not Forgotten” follows suit, but perhaps more obvious; a little more rushed sounding, and probably a studio run through, given the overall quality. Oh, and, Tony Hill’s vocals are more pronounced this time. Maybe not the best thing in the world. “Time Gauges” is another heavy-instrumental-alternating-with-gentle-folksy-stuff, this one sounding much more like it would become something on the later album (High Tide). A tad messy. Still, if you liked the band’s sound on the first album, and want more Goth meets heavy blues meets Crimsonian priggish-ness, only this time with some extra pop and other weird stuff tossed in, plus get to hear Tony’s voice sound higher and whinier, then this is your set of bonus tracks! Otherwise, this ain’t makin’ no converts. No rating change.)

The Whistler | 4/5 |

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