This was a night for those who miss hooks, clean vocals, and melodies in their metal, the curmudgeons who gripe about the supposed drought of “good” current bands.
In 2014, some friends and I managed to catch Chicago’s High Spirits; once in Pittsburgh and again in their hometown as part of the Alehorn Of Power festival, which was headlined by Slough Feg, who drop in next month. The festival is where I also first saw Louisville, Kentucky’s Savage Master, and, ironically enough, Pittsburgh’s own Lady Beast, whose frontwoman, Deb Levine, put on this grand Smiling Moose event.
Founded as a one-man project by prolific metal mogul and singer Chris Black in 2009, High Spirits manage to merge British metal to AOR with a watertight seal, and like many bands, often shine even brighter live than on wax. For example, a song such as the hit-worthy “I Need Your Love” from 2014’s You Are Here, was far more exhilarating and anthemic in the small Cinco De Mayo club environs than on record. High Spirits’ Thin Lizzy/Boston fusion demonstrated tremendous life-force on signature twilight cruisers “Another Night In The City” and “Demons At The Door” from their best-regarded album, 2011’s Another Night, and more recent tracks like “Flying High” from 2016’s Motivator, crunchy candy bar guitars filling ears with sweet diamond riffs as Black’s polite, restrained vocals floated above the streetlights, paying poetic tribute to the magic and melancholy of urban centers after dark.
Another singular vision brought into onstage existence was Ironflame, whose frontman, Andrew D’Cagna, also of Icarus Witch, wrote and recorded all of the music on the group’s two albums to date. With members of Dofka, Defy The Tide, and Quinn Lukas of Icarus Witch fleshing out the live line-up, Ironflame both paralleled and contrasted with High Spirits. D’Cagna’s pipes were in fine power metal form as his “all-star” patrol of soldiers laid Maidenesque waste to false idols with mythic, heroic aplomb. Their following has only gained in strength each time I’ve seen them, and their short cosmic blast of a set did them abundant favors. Once again, the old, cynical traditionalists have something novel to savor whether they’ll bite or not.
Argus, another band I’ve seen a ridiculous amount of times who shill for the golden era and are made up of underground luminaries, put on another command performance of tricky, melodic, epic doom, guitarist Dave Watson and singer Brian Balich working Bonnet/Malmsteen magic atop harmonies and riffs that have surely inspired newer acts like Spirit Adrift and Magic Circle.
Savage Master shot the place up with their NWOBHM-flavored, Bitch/Betsy-worthy thrash, singer and barbarian princess Stacey Savage furthering her apparent quest to become an underground icon, her bratty vocals bolstered by her crew of proficient masked marksmen. We were treated to a new song as well as duet with Deb Levine as Savage and company mesmerized with their macabre conviction and love of the classics.
So, what say you now, Old Heads? There’s no scene here any longer? Bah!