The caveat underlining what currently feels like one of the most exciting moments in hardcore is how much of its most exciting moments have come from bands trying on something new for a change. Turnstile’s whole-hearted embrace of ’90s alternative and funk rock, Fury’s post-hardcore melodicism, Touche Amore’s emo transition—earned stylistic diversions seized by seasoned bruisers with a lot more up their sleeves than breakdowns and unbridled aggression. Ass-kicking aggression and community through collision never really go out of style, but there have been some fascinating new developments in the pit since Black Flag subdivided their sonic elements into excruciating instrumentals and Rollins poetry slam.
London’s High Vis look through the opposite lens, not a hardcore band trying melody and subtlety on for size but rather a post-punk band bolstering their sinewy grooves and Johnny Marr jangle with the brawn of hardcore. The group arrive at this hybrid not through genre tourism as genuine instinct. Peers of oi! revivalists The Chisel and garage punk miscreants Chubby and the Gang, their collective background in punk and hardcore is abundant and transparent through the nine magnetic and anthemic songs on their sophomore album Blending. When vocalist Graham Sayle barks through the muscular crunch of “0151” or the group is tearing through the elevated tempo of effects-laden ripper “Out Cold,” they do so with the wisdom and confidence of veterans who can navigate a circle pit as well as they do a pedalboard.
Aggression isn’t the point on Blending, however, it’s just an occasional benefit. Following their more overtly dark debut album No Sense No Feeling, High Vis emit a broader spectrum of color and sound, finding fertile ground in songs with as much Britpop and Madchester in their DNA as raw-larynx force. The results are thrilling from the get go, with first single and leadoff track “Talk for Hours” injecting Oasis’ yearning for immortality with a raucous back end and some matter-of-fact dissection of communication without connection (“You can’t stand the silence/You hate to leave“). The infectious “Fever Dream” shimmers with the melodic chime and baggy groove of Stone Roses, while the title track whooshes with a blissful shoegaze density, pushing their sound to its prettiest without letting go of the power and grounding that drives it.
As much heft as there is behind the songs on Blending, Sayle isn’t reserved about his vulnerability. He opens up about his own struggles with grief on “Trauma Bonds” (“It’s a short life/Tears on my Gore-Tex“), a song that he admits can be an overwhelming experience for him to perform live, and understandably so. Those meditations on loss and mortality ripple through “Join Hands,” which extends beyond healing in finding hope (“The void is big, but the memory’s vaster/Death is quick, but life moves faster“). Though they’re not an explicitly political band in the way that a group like Bad Breeding is, their social conscience arises in songs like “0151,” wherein Sayle offers both working class solidarity and an indictment of a capitalist society intent on erasing it: “Ghosts of the docks and the factories/Are spectres of somebody’s history/The river runs everything out to sea/But we’re still here.”
Blending carries double, almost contradictory meanings as both a commentary on a societal reluctance to upset or accept anything outside the norm (“I’ve created my reality/And I’m sticking to it,” Sayle sings on the title track) as well as being Liverpudlian slang for sartorial excellence. To that end, High Vis showcase a fashionable unconventionality on Blending, their signature sound itself a blend of sounds that aren’t necessarily contradictory but rarely occupy a similar space. Hardcore is the foundation of Blending, perhaps, but it’s in large part a fuel source for the pursuit of a more kaleidoscopic and sensorially stimulating form of post-punk. That it’s so versatile is a strong selling point, but it’s the band’s ability to convey an undeniable feeling—triumph, catharsis, ecstasy—that makes Blending one of the most purely thrilling rock albums in recent memory.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.