High Fighter – The Goat Ritual (self-released, 28 October 2014)
High Fighter – Scars & Crosses (Svart Records, 10 June 2016)
Zirakzigil – World Builder (Prosthetic Records, 10 June 2016)
Hey folks, how are you? Thanks for stopping by. Are you ready for another dose of good stuff to listen to? I hope so, because once again I’ve got some here to share with you today.
Both of the bands we’ll be discussing today will have an album released on Friday: High Fighter from Hamburg, Germany, will see their first full-length put out by Svart Records, which we’ll talk about in addition to that band’s debut EP that was self-released a while back; Zirakzigil from Portland, Oregon, also have their first LP forthcoming, one which was originally released by the band last year but is now being repackaged (and etched onto vinyl for the first time) by Prosthetic Records.
Formed in the summer of 2014, High Fighter includes former members of German bands A Million Miles and Buffalo Hump. Within a few months, they got together in their rehearsal room and recorded the five-track EP The Goat Ritual live to tape in one weekend. The resultant semi-raw sound nicely reflects the vibe the band were striving to capture; from the beginning of “2Steps Blueskill” until the last strains of feedback fade away at the end of “In Veins,” the listener is hit immediately and repeatedly with heavy stoner-blues riffs again and again. Many of these riffs come out sounding a bit chuggy; often giving off kind of a “stoner-grunge” feeling.
This is combined with Mona Miluski‘s vocals (whom, by way of disclosure, I’ve dealt with for several years through her work with Platinum PR and Napalm Records) — these are usually done in a powerful bluesy style, but that can (and frequently does!) unexpectedly turn into vicious blood-curdling growling. She tends to make the switch from sweet to sour very quickly, except in “Black Waters” where the vocals are actually very caustic-sounding throughout the majority of the song.
A little over a year and a half later, the band’s debut album, Scars & Crosses is now here. Recorded live in the studio, the album maintains a similar feeling to the earlier release, while at the same time demonstrating quite a bit of growth as an ensemble — both in terms of chemistry as well as songwriting. These eight songs are a little longer (mostly around five or six minutes, compared with three or four on The Goat Ritual), and most of them seem to incorporate some psychedelic elements to complement the existing stoner-blues foundation.
This is noticeable right away: after the dark and echoey bendy guitar part that introduces “A Silver Heart,” a heavier distorted part kicks in, but this sort of psychedelic phaser sound is incorporated in the background. These psyche-tinged bits keep reappearing throughout the album, accompanied by plenty of heavy grooves, sometimes slower (“The Gatekeeper” treads into kind of a doomy territory, while “Portrait Mind” verges on sludge-doom), and sometimes quicker (the opening riff of “Blinders” faintly seems reminiscent of “Cult of Personality”).
With this somewhat expanded portfolio of musical styles, the vocals are every bit as powerful as they were before, and — whether as a result of more years of experience as part of this group, or some other reason — perhaps seeming even MORE commanding at the head of these songs than previously. The strong, bluesy vocals here often seem like a much-heavier version of material like this (and if you keep reading to the end of this article, you’ll see why this particular song title is coincidentally very appropriate for today’s discussion!), though once again we find a good amount of nasty, deathly snarls too. Especially on the opening track which at one point slows way down, and also partway through “Darkest Days,” the vocals get SUPER heavy in both cases; make no mistake, you can really tell that this band absolutely means business!
Our next band, Zirakzigil, who formed in 2013, are named after one of the peaks of the Misty Mountain range in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The top of this mountain, reachable by a seemingly never-ending staircase that begins deep in the mines below, was the site of the the battle between the wizard Gandalf and the balrog Durin’s Bane.
Ok, with the obligatory nerd stuff out of the way, let’s look at the band’s debut full-length Worldbuilder, which they recorded with Billy Anderson, and which was what prompted their signing to Prosthetic Records. The album is made up of five songs, four of which are up in the fourteen-to-seventeen-minute range.
Blazing prog guitar riffs, syncopated rhythms, and catchy grooves are the common threads throughout those four tracks, with long-form structures that seem straight out of The Court of the Crimson King. In fact, certain melodies and themes continue to reappear, in various guises, as each song segues seamlessly into the next — which technically would make this album sort of like a prog-rock symphony.
Sprinkled throughout all this progressive madness, sections of gruff and sludgy vocals make appearances. Often these recollect Neurosis, particularly the alternating parts that come up in “Prolegomena.” Elsewhere (“Will and Presentation,” for instance) the vocals sound slower and even sludgier, deep and drawn-out bellowing.
After the fourth track, “Terra Perricolosa,” gradually builds from mellow to some fairly epic guitar arpeggios, ultimately the song reaches its majestic conclusion, thus ending the album proper. This is followed by “Prolegoria,” a bonus track of sorts, which features four minutes of electro-synth music. A video-gamey spaghetti western vibe, if you will — in a similar vein to Muse‘s “Knights of Cydonia,” and (if we’re being completely honest here) sounding no more inorganic than that band usually does.
The Goat Ritual is available to download from High Fighter‘s Bandcamp (see below), or physical copies may be obtained here. Scars & Crosses can be ordered here, and World Builder right here.
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