Review Summary: My first review! (an old album, but straight gold)
This album is like, 10 years old. However, I recently discovered this album (and band) and wow.
Compared to the other efforts by As Cities Burn, Hell or High Water is a lot less intense. It has this solid indie rock flavour all the way through. That being said, though, it's definitely not your average "4 dudes from California making 3 and a half minute songs in their uncle's old, nasty garage". As Cities Burn are clearly innovators, and their progression (from metalcore, to kind of post-hardcore?, to this) is just awesome.
The album starts out firing on all cylinders, really smacking the heck out of you with the opener "'84 Sheepdog". Between the very unexpected ambient-y passage in the middle of the song, to the off-kilter guitar solo, to the passionate delivery by T.J. Bonnette, this track's a freakin' trip and a half. I love this song so much. It's short, straight-forward enough that you don't lose interest but not cookie cutter in any way (including this weird bit-crushed drum section). "'84 Sheepdog" is the perfect As Cities Burn track.
As the album goes on, the variance in the styles among the track listing becomes obvious. Despite the different instrumental and stylistic journeys that take place over these 9 tracks, the album never fails to feel cohesive. The only time where the album wanders a bit for me is on the song "Lady Blue". This thing is 6 minutes long, with a minute-long intro of just him singing almost inaudibly as the track eventually builds into this sea shanty chant? It's pretty impressive, to be sure, but it just takes a smidge too long to really find its way.
Some of the songs on here are definite growers, too. When I first heard the track "Petty", I was quite indifferent. However, the understated-yet-memorable lead riff on this thing is killer. It puts a smile on my face every time the song starts and overall, this track (and the aforementioned "Lady Blue", with its pirate-y leanings) really give Hell or High Water a unique, "ahoy, let's steal some gold, dudes" feel.
The album closes with a song that is still a bit odd to me, though: "Capo". A weird dance/rock hybrid, this track is strangely structured all the way through. And the guest vocal on the first chorus/hook is kind of obnoxious (maybe an understatement). As a closer, the song grooves pretty dang hard, but is a bit of a quirky choice for "the finale" of the album (though I will say that the lo-fi outro is a really nice touch that adds a lot).
Something I didn't mention thus far is the mixing. It's great. There was never a moment where I was like "that was sketchy". Every single second of every song is portrayed vibrantly, and every instrument gets its time to shine (in a way that serves the music.) Even during that part in Lady Blue that I've talked about a lot in this review - the pirate chant - there's this very noticeable panning effect on the entire part that wouldn't normally be advisable, but adds this super awesome goofy splash to the whole thing.
Overall, this is one of my favourite albums of all time. Every song is a total gem in its own right, and I relisten to this thing at least once a week (conservative estimate). I highly recommend it. And I highly recommend As Cities Burns albums too! And, they just reunited, so get ready for some preposterously epic material.