Hell or Highwater- Begin Again

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Tuesday, February 5, 2013

With Atreyu currently on an extended hiatus, side projects from its members have started to pop up as they go off and try different things. One of the longer running projects is Hell or Highwater (previously known as Black Cloud Collective), which was formed by drummer/vocalist Brandon Saller. The band self-released their debut album Begin Again back in 2011 but this year it has gotten widespread distribution thanks to Pavement Entertainment and this new version comes with three bonus tracks. Rather than going for metalcore or any of the styles Atreyu has hit, Saller’s group goes for traditional hard/alternative rock but manages to do it in a way that will hook listeners.

The instrumentals on Begin Again hit just about every style of modern rock that listeners can think of, and this helps to give the effort just the right amount of variation. While the base of the material often pulls from the hard and alternative rock playbooks the guitars layer other influences over top of these, sometimes hitting on sections that have a pop punk feel or even some slight country/blues rock sections. No matter what style Hell or Highwater leans towards they always make sure that the instrumental work is capable of hooking the listener as almost every single track is high energy and features some type of infectious riff that will keep you coming back. While a lot of rock groups start off with some strong numbers and then fizzle out, almost all of the eleven songs had some noteworthy moments. The bonus tracks admittedly aren’t anywhere near the same level of polish (though the remix of “Tragedy” is catchy), but it is still nice to see that the band decided to include them in order to show the kind of progression their material has gone through.

Brandon Saller may have served as backup vocalist in Atreyu, but he demonstrates throughout this release that he can fit the lead role quite well. His voice falls right in the middle of edgy hard rock and some of the lighter pop/alternative rock and the pitch often changes based on what the instrumentals are doing on a particular track. What this means is that Saller may start with a slightly gruffer edge to his voice but will often let it soar into much higher ranges, and I wasn’t aware that he was able to hit such a wide range of pitches. It is possible that some listeners may find that the singing is a little too mellow a little too often for their tastes, but the strong performance on this release should give the band some widespread appeal.

Begin Again comes as a pleasant surprise to me, as modern rock albums tend to be so hit or miss when it comes to offering consistent hooks. Hell or Highwater has managed to craft an effort that has plenty of radio ready moments without repeating itself from one song to the next, and while it may skew a bit too mellow for some people’s tastes I can still see this release having a lot of success in the months to come. Saller and his band seem to have plenty to offer, and I’ll be waiting to see if they can maintain this level of polish and catchiness as that will truly determine whether these guys can step out of Atreyu’s shadow or not.


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