High Tide

Prepare to be engulfed by the waves....

High Tide are an unjustly forgotten link in the late '60s/early '70s chain of developmental heavy metal. Even the most well-versed rock critics and scholars will look stumped if you mention their name -- outside their tiny cult, they were virtually unknown even in their time, and naturally completely forgotten in the three decades since their breakup after only releasing two long-players. However, someone cared enough to re-release both of their original LPs on one CD two-fer, which I surprisingly stumbled across recently. In the pre-Sabbath, post-Hendrix days of 1969, no one was heavier. Aptly named, High Tide completely engulf the listener in crashing, crushing waves of overamplified guitar riffage, with no letup whatsoever - sonically it's akin to trying to futilely crawl your way up to the raftage in a sinking ship in a typhoon. However, that's exactly the problem with High Tide, and why they never found an audience and were soon forgotten - they are simply not an enjoyable band to listen to, with an unbearably monotonous approach, poor to nonexistent melodies, little subtlety. This stuff may have been interesting back in the day, and while it's certainly historically important and ahead of its time, strictly as music it sometimes verges on the unlistenable. Call them the British answer to Blue Cheer, if you will - they pushed the limits of stoned jamming noise before anybody else, with sometimes amusing and often ridiculous results.

Sea Shanties (1969) **1/2

A bizarre historical curiousity, High Tide's debut is unquestionably the heaviest music released in 1969, picking up where Hendrix's dirty electric wizardry left off and running with it to the extreme limits of heaviosity. There are goth overtones, too, as guitarist/vocalist Tony Hill moans in an exact replica of Jim Morrison, and the overall mood is crushingly despondent and gloomy. A full year later, Black Sabbath would refine and greatly improve on this type of crushingly heavy goth-metal blueprint with more focus and memorable riffs. The album starts off with High Tide's career high point, the stunning "Futilist's Lament," which slams you across the head and nails you to the wall as the enamel slowly is ripped off your teeth - a definite hard rock classic that defines the adjective "crushing." Am I overusing that adjective in these reviews? Well, I could just as well end my review with a string of adjectives: "engulfing" "overpowering" "swirling" "queasy" "nasaeus" "morbid" "monotonous" "gloomy" "loud" "bulldozing" "mildewed." Interposed underneath Hill's wailing, gritty guitar tones floats Simon House's queasly violin (I just made that adjective up), giving the music a strange arty undercurrent. Unfortunately, the next track is "Death Warmed Up," an endless 9-minute jam that goes nowhere except further into the far reaches of heaviosity, spoiling the good impression started by "Futilist's Lament." The next couple of tracks have some nice, all-too-brief vocal melodies beginning "Pushed, But Not Forgotten," and "Walking Down Their Outlook," before the inevitable gnashing guitars crash through the pretty medieval vocal melodies like the proverbial bull in a china shop, underscoring the album's sore need for at least the teensiest amount of stylistic diversity: would it have killed them to veer from formula at least once? A few softer passages would really have made this album more bearable - as is, I can barely make it all the way through without getting seasick (obvious, but appropriate, pun). "Missing Out," is little different vocally in that Hill adopts a more agressively snarling Morrison-esque tone, but with a band like this, who cares about the vocals? It and the final track (yeah, 6 entire "songs", the shortest a relatively compact 4:50) "Nowhere" sound the same as the rest.

High Tide (1970) *1/2

Their debut having sold like lukewarm nightsoil, High Tide threw all commercial considerations out the window and released an even artier, less accessible followup with a grand total of - count'em - 3 lengthy I-hesitate-to-call-them-"songs." More like really stoned jams than structured compositions, though I'm sure if I imbibe a few more hits off that bongwater I'll discern the patterns and recognize this as the jazz-rock genius it is. Or maybe not... after listening to this several times, I still can't hum any riffs or think of anything memorable from it except for the vocal melody near the end of the lengthiest track, the 14:25 "Saneonymous," probably because it's the only place on the album where I can poke out a real fraction of melody. Otherwise, High Tide coast on an aimless groove that unfortunately is at least a degree less heavy than the debut - and just what is the point of a High Tide album without the heaviness? That was the entire reason to listen to them in the first place! Kind of reminds me of that scene in Midnight Cowboy where he's suffering temporary impotence and she jokes about a bugler without his horn - absolutely useless, you know? Now Midnight Cowboy, that's a '60s artifact that has stood the test of time - a great flick. Not like this shit, which sounds like a gruesome fusion of the worst excesses of the Doors, Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, and the Stooges, with precious little of the good excesses of those bands.

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