The ever-competitive world of UK hardcore has meant that some bands have had a briefer time in the spotlight than they perhaps should have, or even been muscled out of it altogether, and the case of Higher Power almost certainly belongs in the latter camp. Their 2017 debut Soul Structure had a lot of much-deserved hype around it when put in the ‘90s-influenced boat that Turnstile have turned into a force to be reckoned with, but the fact that it didn’t pick up nearly as much steam as it should feels remarkably unfair. Even more so, the fact that Higher Power effectively seemed to fall off the map and have only experienced a real resurgence in the last twelve months is indicative of a band whose potential hasn’t been fostered in the most effective way. It’s a good thing they’re even getting a second chance here given the speed that the industry moves at, but now with a new home at Roadrunner and with rock producer extraordinaire Gil Norton lending his hand to proceedings, it feels as though Higher Power have pulled out all the stops to ensure 27 Miles Underwater is an album that hits its mark.
The fact that’s come with an almost total abandonment of hardcore makes those signs even more stark as well; this is a rather sizable reinvention, and it takes a lot of faith to make that move so spontaneously. 27 Miles Underwater still finds itself indebted to the ‘90s, but placed within alt-rock and grunge that makes for a post-hardcore concoction that overall could still do with a bit of work, but generally finds its feet within that scene pretty well. It’s not like Higher Power are doing anything all that new either, but the gusto with which they’ve thrown themselves into their work displays an invaluable amount of confidence, and that’ll prove the most crucial when building off this.
Right now though, it’s easily where 27 Miles Underwater is at its strongest, as Higher Power fully pick up the lurching grunge riffage of tracks like Lost In Static and Passenger while keeping a flair that’s decidedly hardcore in ethos, particularly when dabbling in a shouted vocal style like on Seamless or a steamrolling sense of bravado on King Of My Domain. Furthermore, the snarling production keeps everything nice and loud as the guitars burn and calamitous drums crash on a sound that really does establish itself early on as a formidable presence. Tying all of that together is Jimmy Wizard’s vocals, itself a neat concoction of ‘90s touchstones drawing most heavily from Perry Farrall and Billy Corgan, but serving as a rather unique presence that’s easily the most refreshing part of the album. Putting everything together makes for an album that, at its best, can be absolutely spellbinding on the growing swells and crescendos of In The Meantime that feel directly imported from ‘90s US radio-rock in the best way, and the effortlessness with which Higher Power execute it all is where that aforementioned confidence materialises the most.
Still though, it’s not like this is the finished article; Higher Power have their foundations down and are already able to do a lot with them, but there’s still something a rigidity when it comes to this formula that they’d be best to break away from. As a consistent, flowing body of work, this is all rather good, but when individual moments start blurring together and certain extended vocal melodies seem to flit from track to track, Higher Power seem to be losing a grip on what could make this all so special. The lyrics suffer a similar issue, with the central conceit of the body’s cycle resetting itself and compressing broken relationships and mental anguish into the narrator’s head as it goes, there’s a lot of fertile ground there that, on a track like Seamless especially as an introduction to the whole concept. But there’s also a degree of abstraction that, as the album progresses, doesn’t feel as evocative as it could, and it does feels rather easy to rectify. These aren’t major issues by any degree, particularly given the context of the overhaul that Higher Power have undergone, but they’ll be necessary areas to focus on when it comes to honing this approach for the follow-up.
The fact that a follow-up is pretty much guaranteed is a good sign though, as Higher Power have, at long last, carved out a rather definitive place for themselves with the UK scene. It’s all rather rough-hewn at the moment, but the ideas are definitely there, and 27 Miles Underwater finds itself as a culmination of real growth that does feel genuinely rewarding, even despite its shortcomings. As soon as Higher Power find a way to avoid them in the future, this will be a band capable of enormous things, and with a head start like this that’s already got a lot going in its favour, there’s a bright future on the horizon.
For fans of: Nirvana, Citizen, Balance And Composure
Words by Luke Nuttall
’27 Miles Underwater’ by Higher Power is out now on Roadrunner Records.