German sludge exponents High Fighter have really done themselves proud with the release of new album Champain. They’ve been knocking on the door for a while – at least since the release of their excellent Goat Ritual EP from a few years back (2014 to be precise – accuracy-obsessed Ed). But on this record everything clicks, the whole idea of the band makes sense as never before. To coin a well-used adage, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions you’re signing up for when you slap Champain onto the deck but, if you’ve a strong stomach and a head for the musical heights, you’ll be relishing the exhilaration that this album has to offer in spades.
Key to all this, and I say this with all due deference to the musical side of High Fighter, which is never less than solid and very often attains real heights, of which more later – is the vocal performance of Mona Miluski, who takes the stage from minute one and dominates every second she’s near a microphone. You may remember a band from France around the turn of the century that went by the name of Carnival in Coal; their vocalist, Arno Strobl, was nicknamed by some contemporary journalistic wag ‘the vocal Swiss Army knife’ such was his singing flexibility. Miluski is a rival for this crown, battering the ears one moment, caressing them the next, beguiling them always. It’s a high impact performance for sure; yet at the same time it’s a highly personalized take on vocalisation that totally supplants commitment for ‘classical’ technique without ever sounding second rate. On the two best tracks, Dead Gift and Another Cure, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were in the presence of some sort of time-space continuum-defying jam featuring Marianne Faithfull and Royal Thunder. This is every bit as weird as it sounds, but ten times as good in reality as in even my fevered brain.
Kozel is an instrumental tour de force, raging guitars and pummelling drums whipping the senses into a frenzy thanks to the epic work of six string men Christian Pappas and Ingwer Boysen and the percussive smarts of Thomas Wildelau. But whilst it’s good to single out individuals for praise (and I haven’t deliberately omitted bassist Constantin Wüst – it’s just that he’s not given much chance to shine in the mix), it’s important to note that this is very much a triumph of the collective, for all the outstanding personal performances. Sludge is a sub-genre of metal that can burn out non-com observers pretty quickly if the progenitors of the wall of sound don’t get the balance right. On Champain, High Fighter do just that, insuring the listener’s concentration and, more importantly, interest is maintained throughout, given not one second to turn away from the compelling cacophony that’s painted for the ears. By turns mesmeric and cathartic, High Fighter have delivered an archetypal sludge album for modern times.
Champain is set for release on July 26th.