Almost two years to the date that I last spoke with Atreyu drummer/vocalist Brandon Saller, his new project Hell Or Highwater will finally release its debut album, “Begin Again“. Well, in truth, the band self-released the album in the summer of 2011, but it managed to soar well under the radar. During our February 2011 interview Saller expressed that while writing for Atreyu’s last album he’d found himself with a surplus of material that he felt close to, but he knew it was not in the band’s wheelhouse. That’s when the seeds began to germinate.
When Atreyu ended its 2010 touring cycle Saller began devoting his time to cultivating what he came to call The Black Cloud Collective. The highly versatile multi-instrumentalist put the sticks down, grabbed his guitar and began recording a few tracks, some of which offered Saller, had a “more folky feel.” The more time he devoted to The Black Cloud Collective, the more it became clear that it would not merely be a solo project, but rather a full on band.
Now two years later those long ago planted seeds have come to fruition under a new name, Hell or Highwater, with “Begin Again“, which is a dynamic explosion of hard rock anthems, steeped in moody rhythms and ripe with thick melodies and edgy sentiments along with plenty of energy and groove. The band sounds like the bastard lovechild of Guns N’ Roses and Avenged Sevenfold, with some punk tendencies: M. Shadows even makes a guest appearance on the record.
With Saller now up front, Captain Carl handles holds down the kit, laying down the foundation with bassist Joey Bradford. Joining Saller in the foreground are guitarists Matt Pauling and Neal Tiemann.
The album is kick-started with the first single, the driving riff happy rocker, “Gimme Love”. The song embraces all manner of modern influence while dipping into the 80s for its melodic foundation.
The first song that Saller put together was the highly addictive and hooky, “Hail Mary!”, which more than two years after it first appeared on YouTube, remains as inviting and memorable as it did upon first listen.
The band shot a video for the catchy and inspired, “Terrorized in the Night”, which is built for Active Rock radio, and sure to be a fan favorite. While we’ve been listening to Saller singing to some extent for years, three tracks into “Begin Again” one gets a real sense of just how accessible and appealing his voice is. Wonderful guitar solo on this one.
Next up is the angsty and emotive. “Tragedy”, followed by another track recorded for the original Black Cloud Collective demo, “Find The Time To Breathe”. The latter is another radio-ready infectious rocker, and a prime example of why Hell or Highwater may be the end of Atreyu.
“Go Alone” opens with a “Ballroom Blitz” drum pattern before sauntering into a Bryan Setzer rockabilly, honors Sergio Leone, verse. The aforementioned M. Shadows makes his cameo here. The chorus is soaring and memorable, but it’s the overall spaghetti western vibe set in the verse which makes the song stand out. “Some people find it hard to understand, fact is some people need to die…”
Meanwhile, “When The Morning Comes” has a Slash inspired feel to it.
The album’s hardest number is “Crash & Burn” which is immediately followed by the solemn and moody intro to “Come Alive”, which a eventually turns into an aural tornado. More great fretwork here.
The album closes out with “We All Wanna Go Home”, a plaintive war cry, in the midst of a swirling melody. Ironically, by the time Sallers gets the end of the record it’s clear that Hell or Highwater is home, and this fits his talents more readily than his Atreyu wares.
For the official label release a remix version of “Tragedy” is added as well as two bonus tracks; the punk’d up “The Boxer”, and the admittedly awkward, “Pretty Penny” which sounds like it was recorded in a box–Good song, but not great. Hey, not every track can be a winner.
Outside of the “accessible-is-sell-out” mantra of the elitist metal snobs, fans of mainstream hard rock and metal can readily sink their ears into this album. “Begin Again” is a stunning opening salvo from that is easily one of hard rock’s most promising new acts. How this album got overlooked in 2011 is strange for it represents some of the most appealing modern hard rock songs recorded in recent memory. Fortunately it gets a revival in 2013 and with some breaks and appropriate attention it should be one of the year’s breakouts.
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Rustyn Rose is a veteran music journalist who owns and operates Metalholic Magazine and Metalholic Radio.