Professor Black has carved out his niche in the metal scene by paying tribute to the warmer and catchier sounds of the '70s and '80s. Black slings science-fiction prog with AKTOR, melodic thrash with DAWNBRINGER, and under his own name, has paid tribute to the sounds of BATHORY and MOTÖRHEAD. Everything Black attaches his name to is sheer heavy metal comfort food, no projects more so than HIGH SPIRITS. The most beloved of Black's efforts, this project revels in the riff book of bands that would have been on the heavier end of MTV's playlist, pre-hair metal explosion. Black's collections of riffs stand out from others trolling around in the same landscape thanks to an extremely positive energy which propels the power behind the anthems. HIGH SPIRITS is heavy metal that makes you smile, and there is plenty to smile about on the appropriately titled "Hard to Stop".
The album kicks off with "Since You've Been Gone", a bombastic arena-metal opening that would have been appropriate on a 1984 SCORPIONS tour leading off with an unrelenting fast-paced gallop for its full five minutes. The track has more catchy riffs in its running time than many bands put together within a whole album. While the power of the track is on par with the speedier side of ACCEPT's discography, Black's vocals are of a more melodic shouting variety. While he never comes close to attaining the registers and heights attained by vaunted vocalists such as Bruce Dickinson, Black compensates by layering many of his vocals to boost the depth of his catchy anthems. There's a lot to shout along with throughout the HIGH SPIRITS discography, and the latest provides plenty to keep shouting along with.
"Restless" is another catchy power anthem, while "Face to Face" seems to mine the playbook from BLACK SABBATH's Ronnie James Dio years. The song settles into a strong groove that could have fit in snugly within the "Mob Rules" track list and attains that rare mix of catchy and dirty that made the faster songs of that era mix in perfectly with that band's more overtly doom hits. "Hearts Will Burn" is a more swinging rocker with head-bop cues inspired by BOSTON, but here Black proves to be a drumming powerhouse as well, providing impressive drum fills that would reverberate throughout a packed arena.
"Voice in the Wind" is a bit of a misfire, as Black gets a little too poppy in his songwriting and veers dangerously close to pop-punk territory, but luckily that's a very rare miscue. The album gets course-corrected with "All Night Long", which sees the return of the galloping riffs and the arena-level drum fills, along with short bursts of Teutonic metal blasts for heavier firepower. "Midnight Sun" is another DIO-esque anthem, and "Now I Know" sees Black capably revisiting the MOTÖRHEAD worship of his 2018 solo record, "I am the Rock". And as with many of his prior records, Black never wears out his welcome and sticks the landing with the rocking closer, "We Are Everywhere".
Positive vibes are something that is sorely needed during these turbulent times. Professor Black has already proven to be a master of providing energetic anthems that overloaded with catchy riffs and delivered without cynicism, and the latest HIGH SPIRITS record is a much-needed shot of that positive energy.