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It's sad to me that the first thing most will remember about the sixth Flotsam and Jetsam full-length High will be the fact that they listed the song titles on the back each with their own knockoff logo of a famous metal act that influenced them. A sweet little gimmick, but if you thought that this some how would infer that the band were going to put out an effort WORTHY of those roots, then I'm afraid you would have been mistaken. High is a more metallic effort than either Cuatro or Drift, to be sure, and there are a number of tunes I wouldn't kick out of bed for crackers, but in the end it's just another of those many, modernized thrashings of the mid to late 90s that fail to evoke the power and potential of the prior decade, the immortality that for some strange reason the genre exuded before succumbing to a trite and dated commodity.
Songs like "Hallucinational", "Your Hands" and "It's On Me" certainly have their hooks, and they at least seem to recognize the band's power/thrashing foundation if not fully implement it, but then there is another chunk of the album devoted which pursues a more trendy, groovy rock side that I'd expect out of Black Label Society or Corrosion of Conformity (after they stopped being cool). "High Noon" is particularly guilty of this, a rather blase bluesy stoner rock oriented song, but songs like "High" itself and the moody saloon rocker "7 Lucky Day" are also more or less barking up the same tree. "Monster" wouldn't have been out of place on the previous album, a rather quirky hard rocker with a bit of that Black Album or later Metallica groove, and even some of the more straight and aggressive pieces like "Toast" seem to suffer from a lack of strong riffing progressions or compelling ideas.
I think the production here also took a slight nosedive from the prior two albums, having switched from Neil Kernon over to long-term Metal Blade associate, A&R director and at one time vice president Bill Metoyer. The lyrics are pedestrian at best. The vocals feel more repressed, the guitars a little more humdrum and sludgy, though to be truthful it does rather match the more groove oriented, low end writing, the burning bluesy leads, wah wah pedaling and other components. This was still the same lineup as they'd been using for two albums prior, and they certainly feel gelled together and on the same page, but ultimately High delivers nothing more than a steady pummeling at its faster moments, the sort you'd not scoff at if you were looking for a Friday night bar fight in some obscure suburb in the middle of fuck. But it's no 'Saturday Night', if you catch my drift, and the switchblades and motorbikes have been supplanted by butter knives, Tonka three wheelers, and the dulled fisticuffs of missed opportunities.
After such an interesting and successfully experimental release in 1995's Drift, this rather stripped down and generic follow-up is quite the bummer. This barely even sounds like the same band at work - whereas Drift had basically a 90's groove metal sound going for it (albeit with several progressive twists and turns), this album sees Flotsam returning to somewhat of a thrash sound, which is what they started out playing and made a name for themselves through (I mean other than through Jason Newstead quitting to join Metallica, obviously). Except this doesn't sound anything like early Flotsam; the sound here is mostly comparable to a VERY watered-down version of Overkill's Horrorscope. A bunch of tenth-rate "Thanx for Nothin's", that about describes over half the album.
Yes, like Overkill, there's still plenty of groove to speak of, but the songwriting has gone from progressive, elaborate and texture-rich to basic, carefree and jam session-sounding. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself, I mean a lot of great music has been conceived that way, but the band just seems so awfully out of the groove on here. As implied by the album's title and many of the lyrics, I can picture there being much use of drugs involved here; the surprisingly un-tight sound and notably poor performances are pretty solid indicators of that too. I'm not sure it explains the sheer unmemorability of the songs, though, which is by far the main problem we have here. Lack of songwriting consistency has been a definite issue with this band ever since the departure of Jason Newstead after the first album, and this album is actually more than anything else consistent in the negative direction.
Furthermore, I cannot stress enough how terrible the production is, especially in comparison to their two previous outputs with the excellent Neil Kernon (Dokken, Nevermore, Cannibal Corpse, Michael Bolton, he's been around quite a bit) providing that part. Switching labels from MCA back to Metal Blade is more than likely where to put the blame here; I guess in a year like 1997, a relatively small label like Metal Blade probably didn't see it a good investment to put a lot of money into a metal album. Producing this time is Bill Metoyer, who has definitely produced some classic Metal Blade shit over the years, but here, there's just no denying the suckage. Some I guess is due to the band, but in any case, the guitars are thin and bland, the mix is poor and worst of all, there's little to no real energy in the playing. Of particular disappointment is the performance of vocalist Eric Knutson, whose talent as well pure power and charisma had a large part in making the previous album so enjoyable (and Cuatro at least decently entertaining for what it was). Here, his vocals are best described as sleepy and phoned in, certainly not fit for a supposed thrash metal album.
That said, "Monster" absolutely fucking kicks ass - such an incredibly fun little song, very original and simply cool as hell. It sounds so much more well-thought out than the other songs and also the production doesn't hurt as much as usual since it doesn't even pretend to be thrashy or at all aggressive in the first place. The other noteworthy song is the highly emotional "Everything"; this is exactly the stuff that the many ballads of Drift are made of, showing an interesting different side of the band. But yeah, the rest pretty much blows and I cannot with a good conscience recommend this album to anyone. Again, it generally reminds me of 90's Overkill, but has a stinging lack of solid riffage and aggression, and few other qualities of its own to make up for it. Musically thin, poorly executed and overall lifeless, High is yet another unfortunate example of a classic thrash metal band going all to hell in the mid-to-late 90's. Do check out the one prior to it, though...