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"Turn around, see me crying"

Class E

Main Category: Art Rock
Also applicable: Heavy Metal, Mope Rock, Prog Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: --------



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If my site happens to be the first from which you learn about the existence of a late-Sixties band called High Tide, there's nothing surprising about that - no general overview or encyclopaedia of British hard rock/art rock of that period, except for the most detailed ones, will have them mentioned. Which is a shame because they deserve to be mentioned. Yes, they only recorded two albums in two years (if you don't count the innumerable archive releases and 'reunion' albums that have surprisingly appeared in large masses in the Nineties) and then disappeared without a trace, but so what? So did Big Star, and they are currently enjoying a large critical revival as one of the most underrated and underappreciated bands of the early Seventies. Time to brush off the dust off these guys, now, because they really represent an essential link in rock history, not just a capriccio of mine.

Not that I love the band or anything. High Tide developed a unique brand of music, definitely ahead of its time and unlike anything else on the blossoming scene of the late Sixties, but from the very start they never tried to have any kind of commercial orientation and bravely defied conventional listenability criteria. Naturally, as all "trend-battling" bands of the time, they were doomed from the beginning. They managed to build up a following among fans of the 'underground' scene, mainly in continental Europe (I don't even know if they ever toured the States - I doubt if even the most prominent critics there had been aware of their existence), but this was apparently not enough to justify album sales, and the band fell apart in about two years.

High Tide's music really lies somewhere in between "hard" and "art", with more penchant towards the former, I'd say, on their debut album and more towards the latter on the second one. In both cases, though, it's not the kind of hard-rock or art-rock we're used to when we speak of late Sixties. Based upon the double attack of Tony Hill's electric guitar and Simon House's electric violin, High Tide operate more in "groove" categories than in "song" categories - while numbers like 'Futilist's Lament' and (partially) 'Blankman Cries Again' certainly can be qualified as songs, for the most part, their music is of an improvisatory character, endless jamming that's more mood-setting than memorable.

Both musicians were very talented, indeed: Hill is an ace guitarist, tossing out blunt, mammothesque Tony Iommi-like riffs with as much ease as he's churning out deft, agile solos full of complex jazzy tricks and stuff, while House doesn't lag far behind in his violin skills (and after High Tide disbanded, he even joined Hawkwind for the rest of the Seventies). And this impressive pair certainly gets off on all that stuff - it's obvious that they take pure delight in playing off each other and dragging their stuff for as long as they want because it's groovy. Plus, the heavy, depressive mood they set was far more radical and straightforward than the classically influenced depression of, say, Procol Harum, but definitely 'artsier' and less caveman-like than the metallic terror of the Zeppelins.

On the other hand, High Tide's main weak spot is monotonousness - the mood they set is pretty much the same on everything they play, and it would take a really gutsy fan to easily endure any High Tide album in its entirety, even if both are rather short. This lack of diversity and intentionally negative feel towards creating memorable melodies doesn't allow me to give them a higher class status than E; do not, however, think of this as a negative rating, because for a band that only had two albums out and next to no truly memorable songs and next to no diversity in their general stylistics, an E is higher than the Empire State Building in retrospect. And why should we note these guys at all? Because the one and only step they took was a giant step, the kind of step that should have landed them into the pantheon of rock heroes but didn't because rock heroes are ever so often chosen at random. High Tide are certainly among the forefathers of heavy metal; as early as the late Sixties, they rocked heavier than almost anybody else. They are certainly among the forefathers of Goth - Hill's pessimistic, depressive lyrics and intonations copped directly from Jim Morrison and married to this mammoth heaviness point right there sharper than almost anything else at the time, apart from maybe some proggish stuff like early King Crimson. And the trippy guitar-heavy space-rock of Hawkwind certainly owes these guys a thing or two as well - the very principle of "weave all kinds of astral synth and strings jamming around a heavy riff" that was so essential for Hawkwind was developed on Sea Shanties before that band even formed. So, get these two records and break 'em out from time to time just to Honour the Heroes, ya know.

Lineup: Tony Hill - guitar, vocals; Simon House - violin; Peter Pavli - bass; Roger Hadden - drums. The rhythm section of the band is pretty tight, although, I'd say, unexceptional. It's Hill and House that will get the most attention from me.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 11

Forgive these guys the lack of melodies - it's time to be engulfed in the huge sonic waves!


Track listing: 1) Futilist's Lament; 2) Death Warmed Up; 3) Pushed But Not Forgotten; 4) Walking Down Their Outlook; 5) Missing Out; 6) Nowhere.

I wouldn't want to join the - no doubt existent - bunch of fans who'd claim Sea Shanties to be the true epitome of heaviness and that one best heavy album in the world so unjustly forgotten by future (and neglected by contemporary) generations. Rather, it falls into that category of important and innovative records that prove things we "wouldn't like to know". Think the Pretty Things' S. F. Sorrow as the first example of 'rock opera' rather than the world-famous Tommy, think the Silver Apples as pioneers of synthesizers rather than Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Stevie Wonder, think numerous faceless garage bands as the first real punks before you-know-who, etc., etc. All these albums and bands have one thing in common - they were all innovative, but they didn't manage to balance their inventiveness and innovation with solid songwriting craft and 'mass appeal' (the latter understood in the positive sense here). Thus, it's only natural, if certainly unjust and a bit sad, that they were forgotten and replaced by their more witty colleagues who were able to make their achievements produce a real revolution in mass conscience.

Same goes for High Tide's debut album. Much as I love Stand Up and, to a lesser extent, Led Zeppelin II, Sea Shanties has definitely gotta occupy the title of heaviest album in 1969. Guitarist Tony Hill had apparently been paying close attention to Hendrix, as the distorted, scorching tones he employs on the record are certainly borrowed off Jimi's experimental noisemaking off Are You Experienced, except that Tony doesn't use them for noisemaking, he uses them as the base for the actual melodies. However, the style of his playing is anything but Hendrix - this is not a bluesy album by any means, and Tony's grumbling wall-rattling riffs can only be compared to what that other Tony would start doing in about a year. In other words, think Black Sabbath playing style crossed with the dirtiest of Hendrix guitar tones. But that's only one element; Simon House's driving electric violin throws in a certain degree of 'artsiness', even "proggishness", as the man battles with Tony's guitars, and Tony's vocals are so close to Jim Morrison's that some of the 'softer' parts on the album could easily be mistaken for lost Doors' outtakes. Er, "Outtakes From The Forgotten Doors" - I think that sounds pretty nifty, doesn't it?

Anyway, the first song, 'Futilist's Lament', would be enough to bawl over anybody. A smashing, mastodontic, grunge-and-everything-else-predicting riff almost rips out of your left speaker, and as you screaming run for cover into the shelter of the right speaker, another, an even heavier and poisonous riff rips out of it, too, throwing you back to the wall where your family will be gathered to scrape you off with a toothbrush. (That's what happened to me, don't ask me how I got my poor remains together). Then, however, the second riff goes away, replaced by House's twiddling violin, and as Tony starts to sing in his devastating, Morrison influenced tone about the perils and dangers of life, you can easily understand why this album didn't make much of an impact in 1969: for that period, it was so unbelievably hardcore and radical that promoting such a thing might have caused one serious problems.

How, in fact, can you promote a record that has 'Death Warmed Up' as its second track? It's a sprawling nine-minute jam that only gets heavier and heavier and heavier as it progresses, until you get the feeling that all the room is burning up in flames and start getting visions of Mr Hill with scorched, charred fingers and thick black smoke coming out of the amplifiers. It also gets rather boring once you got used to it, OR it gets totally unlistenable once you find out you can't get used to it. Either way, it's not a chef-d'oeuvre of music-making, but it is melodic, in the long run, and you can headbang to it like no other composition from 1969...

It's all quite typical of the other four songs as well. Classically-influenced, medievalistic compositions (the classical influence is especially well seen on the quieter moments, such as the first section of 'Pushed But Not Forgotten') with well-constructed, but not instantly memorable vocal melodies that all eventually transform into this dirty, stinkin', rotten, exciting sludge. Some, like 'Walking Down Their Outlook', are a bit 'uptempo', but the other ones are normally and predictably slow, just like any selected classic Black Sabbath song would sound. If anything, the album suffers from a total lack of diversity: I like the sound in general, but it's a bit too much bleeding on the ears for me to be able to take all of it in one go, and a more 'lightweight' interlude or two would have certainly benefited the general look of the thing, especially since Hill and House can do 'lightweight' interludes, as 'Pushed' proves.

But then again, it's the very point of the record to be consistently HEAVY. In terms of 'musical purpose', this is a radical opposite to something like the Stooges' Funhouse - that album was defiantly 'anti-artsy' (which made it artsy by definition, but that's another matter), while Hill, House and company certainly pretend this to qualify as an art-rock, in parts even prog-rock experience, but that doesn't mean I gotta enjoy it any less than the Stooges' masterpiece. I probably enjoy it even more, although it depends on the mood: if you're in for a bit of 'caveman' heaviness, go for the Stooges, if you're more inclined towards this leaden Goth heaviness, High Tide's your bet. In fact, while not too many songs on here relate to 'sea' thematics, the sound, at times, is so apocalyptic and thunderstormy that it fits right in with the album cover. But I bet you anything you don't hear that kind of 'sea shanties' at sea. Not often, at least.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 9

Artsier, with equally weak melodies, though. Still intriguing, but I guess it's a regress of sorts.


Track listing: 1) Blankman Cries Again; 2) The Joke; 3) Saneonymous.

A change of style happens here, and I mourn it. Somehow, Tony decided to get rid of most of that fuzzy heaviness of the first album - whatever for? He sure couldn't have made a more stupid thing, as it was the fuzzy heaviness that made the band matter in the first place. Either he took a listen to the first Black Sabbath album and understood that he'd be beat forever by these guys, or maybe he decided that heaviness was distracting him from melodicity, but anyway, the self-titled album is FAR softer than Sea Shanties, with more relaxed, milder guitar tones and tons less distortion and fuzz. At the same time, the band also complicates their approach. There are but three tracks on the entire album, and this shows that Tony and company were actually eager to join the progressive crowds of the day. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if they had a particularly huge background - High Tide is trying to be artsy but does so on its own, for the most part, with as few influences as possible. Now I'm the last person to overestimate influence and underestimae originality, but when you have jams that go over ten minutes and sound like a bunch of stoned kids trying to play 'serious' music without having a good understanding of what 'serious' music actually is...

Well, then again maybe it's all just a sign of genius, don't you know. See, I can make a bet with anybody that I can learn to play the guitar and violin in two days, record a bunch of 'songs' or 'compositions' on the third day, release the ensuing album and have AT LEAST a small bunch of 'fans' by the fourth day, given at least a little promotion... it really sucks, of course, but truth is that so far, there hasn't been written a single song on this planet (at least, out of the songs that have been released on actual records) that hasn't pleased at least somebody. And of course, when you're dealing with the groundbreaking approach of High Tide, it's sure to please at least a bunch of people. Hmm.

I mean, one song at least even pleases me. That's 'Blankman Cries Again'. It starts off kinda mellow, like one of those romantic-epic ballads of the Doors, only with a subdued Celtic feel to it. Then, after a few verses... by the way, is that really a distorted violin playing that hilarious riff that enters at about 1:15 into the song and then re-appears again a couple times? It sounds so dang cute I'm totally embarrassed. Anyway, after a few verses it goes into that wall-of-sound monolithic JAM that just sucks me in. Like Hawkwind, only instead of the "basic" metallic riff you find a multi-tracked violin rhythm, and then Hill and House 'weave' their solos around it. It's not much, but it IS hypnotic in a certain way.

That was the first song, and again, like 'Futilist's Lament', the first song on the album is the most accessible. Then the problems start. 'The Joke' is even lengthier than 'Blankman', but far less atmospheric and involving. The two-minute introduction essentially sounds like a poorman version of Yes on autopilot - poking their jazzy guitar phrases and violin dentistry into every corner and not getting much out of it. Then, when the song starts, it becomes MUCH better, and again demonstrates Hill's passion for folksy motives; he even drops the Morrison-like vocals and tries modulating his chords so they'd start sounding like, er, a young Irish minstrel or something like that, albeit AGAIN in a very depressive mood. But where the sung parts are excellent, the lengthy instrumental noodlings are, well, nothing new. Wank, wank, wank all over the place... dammit, I recognize that style. It's not British style, dammit. It's acid guitar style, that's what it is! It reminds me of the Dead and the Airplane and particularly Quicksilver Messenger Service, you know, that half-attractive/half-annoying style when it seems they're all using just one string and 'weave' their pattern without ever changing tone, pitch, frequency, key, whatever. It's probably very professional, although I sure wouldn't know about that - all I know is that kind of thing rarely manages to thrill me. Somehow I liked Tony's Hendrix-influenced chops better.

But there's also the second side, all occupied by the fifteen-minute long 'Saneonymous'. Cool title, mayhaps, but dammit is that song long. And the best part about it is still the opening - that brilliant harmony line from Tony. Supposedly there are some vocals in the middle of the song (for the most part, I was asleep during those parts), but this is above all just an instrumental jam. And it's LENGTHY. And it RULES. At times. At other times, it sucks. How can I review this goddamn music when its effect is so dependent upon the mood? That's the trouble with innovative music - I know it's complex and it's original and it's mood-setting and all, but I just don't enjoy it that much.

Still, I bravely give the album a 9 even if in my subjective reasoning it's hardly anything more than a mediocre 8. That's just an attitude. To hell with subjective reasoning; I want to be friends with the potential High Tide fan! So if you're a potential (or actual) High Tide fan, listen here: this album has original ideas, this album is pretty depressive, this album has a purpose, this album just drags along a bit and makes my heart sink deep inside my lungs and my lungs crash through my ribs and spoil my liver, so I guess I'll have to shake it up and put on something like the MC5's Back In The USA right now for remedy, but before I do that, my final verdict is that High Tide were nice imaginative lads and it's a real pity they broke up. Who knows, maybe in a dozen years they would have turned into Napalm Death! Eh? What d'ya mean, 'there's no resemblance'? Didn't your mother tell you that once you sped up your 'Futilist's Lament' seven times as fast and cut it into sixteen different songs, you got the blueprint for From Enslavement To Obliteration?

And yeah, I'm well aware that was a dumb and unsuccessful Prindlism. Not that I care. I ain't never said I'm a great review writer.



Year Of Release: 1990
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10

Pretty nice tidbits - I could only imagine the horror had they been drawn out, but they're SHORT, and that's cute.

Best song: ALL OF ONE RACE

Track listing: 1) Unearthed; 2) All Of One Race; 3) Static In The Attic; 4) The Battle Of Norris Mill; 5) The Flood; 6) Unhinged; 7) Light Your Torch; 8) The Great Universal Confidence Trick; 9) Icarus Phoenix; 10) Ice Age; 11) Steady In E.

In the early Nineties High Tide seem to have underwent a curious 'rejuvenation' procedure - Tony Hill saw to the release (or maybe just 'saw the release', since I'm not particularly sure if Tony was behind the release of all that archive stuff) of this album, containing various studio outtakes from different periods of the band's existence, and at around the same time even got the band back together to record a couple new discs. Oddly enough, they were supposedly issued on such minor labels that it's hard to even find them in the discographies - the AMG guide will never warn you of the existence of The Flood, which is a drag, because on a song by song level it just might be totally on par with the 'official' two albums.

It IS all broken up and tidbitty and inconsequent, but that's the very advantage of the album - you won't find any nine-minute sprawling jams on here, designed to force-feed the world that particular brand of artistic conscience developed by Mr Hill. One track does last for eight minutes - 'The Great Universal Confidence Trick', but on its own it does pretty little harm even if it does seem a bit stupid buried within all these nifty little pieces. It has something, shall we say, Crimsonian about it, right? I wouldn't be surprised to hear something like that on Fripp's The Great Deceiver, hey, and even the title seems appropriate. Fripp and company certainly took a cue or two from those guys back in the early Seventies. At least, they SHOULD have.

But I'm mainly preoccupied with the shorter stuff, catchy commercial pop lover and praiser of total self-humiliating sellouts that I'm known to be. Not that the rest of the tracks do sound like sellouts, mind you - one thing Tony Hill managed to never have done in his life was to sell out. Instead, he just jammed around with his pals for eternity: the tracks date from almost all the sub-periods of the Seventies. There's a bit of Simon House stuff, probably recorded while the band still had a recording contract; a bit of 1971 stuff, recorded after House and Roger Hadden had left and were replaced by Android Funnel (no, I'm not making that up) on guitar and Drachen Theater (not making that up either) on drums; some stuff from 1976, with Hill, Pavli and Drachen Theater; and - horror - one track from 1979 that doesn't even feature Hill. It's the title track, 'The Flood', and Pavli and Drachen Theater are the only 'band members' present! Hmm. Maybe the two just got together for a moment of relaxation and decided to commemorate the event by recording something depressing and philosophic. Amazingly, 'The Flood' is a lost marvel of a pop gem, highlighted by a truly moody Mellotron line in the background, cute acoustic riffs and a thoroughly catchy vocal melody, although Pavli's mumbling vocals are certainly a far cry from Hill's brooding Morrison intonations. Still, I wish I weren't the only person for miles around to admire the song.

Okay, now, the early stuff - much of it manages to rule. Particularly on repeated listenings. In that case, even the 'totally minor' stuff like the two-minute instrumental shuffle 'The Ballad Of Norris Mill' (obviously a raw demo with critically poor sound quality - seems like somebody was tap-dancing on the recording controls at about the same time) will begin to sound, well, in an enthralling manner. These guys sure had potential, even if much of it was blown on that pretentious stuff from their second album. 'All Of One Race', for instance, strikes me as an excellent number that could have easily been 'Futilist Lament No. 2' - it's too bad most of the songs here are underdeveloped and poorly produced, but after all, this IS an archive release. A little more punch and a little more heaviness (and in that respect, The Flood isn't really heavy at all, because Tony rarely uses those gritty tones of his throughout), and hoopla, a classic is born. I guess.

Of the 'latter day' stuff, I appreciate 'Light Your Torch' - another semi-catchy and pretty impressive 'Goth' anthem, with the expected crunchy riff and the expected "define-ominous" vocal melody. 'Steady In E' is also an intriguing instrumental, although I have a strange hint of Tony re-using the classic 'Locomotive Breath' riff on that one, plus Drachen Theater gets in a completely useless drum solo. But basically, although the songs do date from different years, they're all structured according to the well-known High Tide formula: heavy mood, heavy riff, a swamp of feedbackish sludge, and defiant artistic ambitions. And a few treasurable hooks almost in every composition - granted, these are not Beatles-quality hooks, but they're enough to convince me that The Flood shows High Tide as a band that actually took some time to work on their material and didn't just rely exclusively on 'style' - although they certainly could, what with that style being pretty unique and all. Which begs for an obvious question: why, then, is it so that The Flood is the outtakes and High Tide is the officially released album when by all logical means it should have been the opposite? I think I know the answer. Do you?



Year Of Release: 1990
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 7


Best song: hold on a minute while I get my chisel out, please. Oh, okay, maybe POWER AND PURPOSE.

Track listing: 1) Chess; 2) Roll On; 3) A Fierce Nature; 4) Tribute; 5) Time To Change; 6) Incitement; 7) Power And Purpose.

Apparently, the rejuvenation procedure consisted of more than just hauling out old obscure outtakes. Whether Tony was sparkled by those discoveries or both projects took place at the same time I do not know, but fact is, 1990 saw the release of not one, but THREE contemporary "New Wave of High Tide" records, and the one and a half fans of the band rejoiced.

But truthfully, there's hardly anything to rejoice about. This new High Tide consists of but two members, Tony on guitar (and also fulfilling the bass duties) and Drachen Theater on drums, and it's pretty horrible. Here's the recipe: lay down a muddy, messy (although definitely competent) drum track, then overdub some moderately catchy vocal melodies and bazillions of guitar tracks, make it all sound the same, and off you go. The album is chock-full of this stuff: minute after minute after minute of noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling and noodling.

Sorry, got a bit involved in the cut-and-paste thing there... you know how it goes - once you start it it never stops. Too easy, ain't it? Makes me remember fondly the golden days of cuneiform engraving upon pillars. Ah, people were more inventive back then. And they would have certainly quartered Mr Hill, too, for hurting their ears with this mess. Now don't you get me wrong: this is a GOOD style he's got there. Gimme two or three minutes of the twelve-minute bluesy jam 'Tribute' and I'll praise it as a magnificent instrumental passage. If anything, Tony's technique has only improved with the years, and he's playing phenomenal passages, inspired and emotional, which any average guitar player couldn't even dream in his wildest dreams about. But this is a forty-minute release for Chrissake, and it ALWAYS sounds the same. You ALWAYS have a twin guitar battle overdubbed on EVERY track. You don't even have no RHYTHM, Jesus and sweet Mary. Maybe Tony did overdub some bass, I don't hear it... I only hear the chaotic drum patterns and the twin guitar soloing, on and on and on. At least in early times Hill used to alternate solos with actual riffs, today he probably just abandons the concept of riff as something 'primitively commercial'. In that case, the question remains why he's still actually singing something - because he obviously strives to make his vocal melodies accessible.

Heck, he even finishes the album on a slightly lighter note - with the folksy acoustic ballad 'Power And Purpose' which almost recalls the Byrds at some juncture. How avantgarde and original is that? So don't give us no bull, Tony, be a good lad and give us some riffs. Still persisting? Off with you! Oh yeah, another important thing is that the album sounds as if it had been produced in a cave. Of course, I do not think that with all his anti-commercial attitude, Mr Hill has earned enough money through the years to acquire a personal studio with the most modern technological gadgets installed, but you know, I don't think hiring a half-decent studio would have seriously hurt him financially either. Then again, I'm probably one of the several dozen individuals who actually bought this album (which was released in a semi-official manner on some minuscule label I'm not aware of - you'll have a lot of trouble finding detailed information about it on the Net), and besides, I'm definitely sure my money didn't end up in Hill's pockets, so enough pointless hypotheses.

Again, I'm not particularly angry - and in fact, it's pretty interesting how Hill and Drachen Theater manage to play in 1990 in the exact same way they were playing together in the Seventies. A truly timeless album! Even if the pretentious liner notes still find the gall to state that "this excellent collection captures all the fire and purpose of High Tide's early work, yet retains a contemporary purpose. Perhaps time is only now catching up with Hill's exceptional vision!" Yeah, sure, old buddy. Whatever you say. High Tide will yet rise in full splendour and show everybody a good time! (On Judgement day!).

It's truly an interesting style, but nothing will ever persuade me that all the most outrageously defiant and avantgarde bands should be exempt from the "diversity" regulation. The rawness and chaos just kill me - in the hands of a good understanding producer, who'd understand Tony's message and style, this could have taken the form of a first-rate "hard-art" album. Just add some serious riffs, sprinkle with various special effects, clean up the production... and hoopla, suddenly you have a record that's accessible AND unique at the same time. Memorable vocal melodies are already present in embryonic form - as on 'Chess' or 'Roll On' or the already mentioned 'Power And Purpose', for instance. That would simplify the task. Ah, what a record that would be. But as it is, I simply refuse to subject myself to any further listening than the required three times - I personally prefer records where it is not above me to understand where one song ends and the next one begins. But remember - Tony Hill is still a great guitarist.


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