Highgate have been throwing their weight around for the past few years, making headway in the doom underground. Worth checking out is the compilation of their demos released by They Used Dark Forces Recordings. While the label name is utterly moronic and awkward, Highgate's demo material is astounding in quality and much more enjoyable then the massive, Moss-like expanse of their self titled debut. Though it's hard to pick out specific bands which Highgate sound similar too, their influences are easy to discern on the debut, possibly one of the reasons I don't like it as much as I do their demo material. The enigmatic nature of a band who have seemingly developed a sound completely their own to the point which influences are difficult to extrapolate is rare. Highgate's demo material is closer to realizing this golden treasure. The debut though is more pigment. I sense a particularly strong love of Isis' style of movement fluidity with the druginess of mid-period Electric Wizard and the rustiness of bands like Nortt.
Speaking of the debut, Highgate have given up what worked so well for them on their demo material - a sense of harmony and crafting actual songs. The simple fact that I can choose a song from their demo such as "Burial Light" and actually listen to the entire song without having to plan my doctor's appointments around it is particularly convenient. It takes a lot of time to listen to a forty-five minute song... forty five minutes to be precise, forty-five minutes in which I can't do a single other thing. The only practical time to listen to an album such as this is when you're laying down to go to bed and you're DEFINITELY going to fall asleep before you hear the whole track. Trust me on this. Highgate is the ultimate somnifacient.
Musically speaking though, this is typical slow, dirge-doom with large single stroke punches left to fester and radiate like the atomic explosions which the band seems to obsess over. The debut, Highgate, opens with the rusty chords, a sample newscast about the effects of an atomic blast, and, eventually around the three minute mark the most evil Sabbath worshiping riff I've yet had the pleasure of injecting into my ear canal. What Highgate have done perfectly on this vast song though is continually maintain direction. The song deviates constantly, never sitting too long or repeating too many times and as it undergoes its myriad transformations reveals the range of possibilities which Highgate also showed on their demos. While Highgate can sludge it out with the best, they can also cut back the distortion and weave supple natural guitar melodies with frightening noise to create unique texture.
This ability to create texture, shown throughout the lengthy track on the eponymous debut, seems planted and frail in the context of the song. The parts themselves are strong and excellent though feel incoherent in the overall structure. They would have worked better had they been their own separate song. I feel Highgate, instead of doing what may have been best for the release, had the notion that releasing one single long track would overwhelm listeners and expect them to accept that this single massive long track is an incredibly epic masterpiece just because it has so much mass. While some are overcome by such trickery, I don't much care for it. So while Highgate eagerly tried to jam everything into a single track and pass it by us without us knowing, their demos sit around, nonchalantly looking on with furrowed brows and scowls, upset that they aren't getting the attention they deserve. Well, I'm going to give them the attention they deserve.
Black Frost Fallout and their 2005 Demo simply rapes the pretentious long winded untitled track of their debut with multitudes of farming equipment. Songs such as the creepy yet sophisticated "Burial Light" busy themselves with driving John Deere cultivators into tight orifices which Highgate's self titled didn't know existed and The opening track, "Black Frost Fallout" is ready and willing to be the most intense of the Highgate songs. Though the drum tone on the Black Frost Fallout material isn't as oceanic - that might be an Isis reference... maybe... - as the drums on the debut, the rest of the album comes off as far more powerful. Maybe this is due to the cassette's ability to amplify the low ends and cut down on the crispy treble frequencies, which in Highgate's case is a good thing. Moments on the debut were a bit too crisp, like a burnt French fry... and no, not one of the delicious slightly burnt fries at the bottom of the batch. I'm talking fried to the point of oblivion. Fried so far removed from edibility that you instead decide to use the crusty mass to puncture Ted the fry-cook's tires in the parking lot after you chip your back molar unsuspectingly on the steel-like encasement that is your overcooked fry.
"The Wolf" is the closest Highgate come to black metal, as the song deconstructs into a flurry of atmospheric black metal near the half-way mark. Suitably, this moment alone renders the demo a depth and texture not found on the debut CD. "Black Frost Fallout" employs a similar tactic during its running time. "Sermon Of The Apocalypse" takes form on the demo as the band's "hit." The first showing is a from the Black Frost Fallout demo, the second is an edit from the 2005 Demo. What's so enjoyable about this song is the simplicity of it's construction and it's movement from harsh to melancholy with a simple harmony. Once again, Highgate's use of harmony on the Demo rules supreme. The 2005 version of "Sermon Of The Apocalypse," though the same song is more atmospheric, a consequence of a more low-fi recording. I think though that this song contains the compilation's best drum tone - distant, spacey and clear. Sadly, the harmonies which I enjoyed on the original sound absent.
Sea of Perdition is a watery ambient track, nice and smooth the whole way through. A nice contrast to the sharpness of "Burial Light," which happens to be my favorite track on the compilation. It has so much going for it - a slightly uneasy mellow interlude, intriguing harmonies and the tormented Highgate vocals ghostly wailing from beyond the grave. At nine minutes, the song is long enough to find yourself lost in, not too long to summon sleep and complex enough to listen multiple times without hearing everything. Hell, it even contains a tiny guitar solo in the vein of early Obituary. With six songs and a lot of interesting and memorable material, this compilation is the best place to start at with this band. The blood-red cassette insert is awesome too, a nice break from all the white print on black pro-covers which arrive daily in my mailbox.
I know this might sound tempting and you'll be searching for a while before finding any copy. Check out Pale Horse Records, they should have some available.