Returning with a solid self-titled effort, Your Highness provide a sludgy slab of Belgian doom/stoner rock. The album has chops enough to feed those craving something hard and tasty, without too much spicy seasoning on the side.
A lot has changed in the world since 2016; the landscape of our planet continues to shift, politically, physically, and musically. For their part, Belgian noise makers Your Highness have been tucked away, honing and experimenting with their sound so as to ensure they remain a viable part of this evolution. The past four years have been, in their words, ‘not the easiest years to say the least’. Now it is time to see whether or not the fruits of those labours are worth consuming.
What is immediately apparent is the band’s growth in confidence, not just in the performance of their music (although each member of this five-piece clearly feels comfortable within their roles). No, the increase is evident in their composition, too. Taking a slight departure from the somewhat more hook-oriented days of 2016’s The Quietus, this time around Your Highness have embraced a mindset that sees them play with a little more sludge – and I daresay a little more urgency – to their sound.
The Quietus (which was anything but) was a delightful 20-minute outing of stoner and blues in messy harmony, topped with curious touches, such as flamenco guitar and even a little chicken-picking. Your Highness is a longer effort, keeping much of the framework that made their previous work an entertaining listen while foraying into different, mostly harder directions. The balance of the instruments has a far weightier feel to it this time, with rhythm- and bass guitar gleefully spewing out distortion.
“Devil’s Delight” is a strong opening gambit that builds suitable anticipation with its manic drum patterns and relentless riffery. It’s an enticing track, and an almost guaranteed set-starter. Drawing nearer to the song’s end, twin lead melodies come out to play with Mastodon-esque vibes. These spotlights crop up all throughout Your Highness, adding an extra coat of attitude to the already dripping walls of noise.
Not to be bested by its predecessor, “The Flood” darts out of the gate like it has something to prove, culminating in a tasty little solo of sorts before transitioning into a shimmering western-vibe that swells briefly at the track’s close. Inversely, “Born Anew” sets off the way a pilgrim wandering the dusty mesa might, kicking things up a notch before long for another raucous romp. Such loudness is covered adequately across the record’s eight tracks. “Little to Relate” and “Rope as a Gift” have a touch more road trip rock to them than stoner, sweetening the deal with yet more tuneful lead guitar work.
Fourth track “Black Fever” is a particular highlight, a perfect example of how Your Highness is something of a two-sided entity. You hear an interesting balance of calmly shimmering blues, desert vibes, and tremolo haze one moment and crushing monstrosities the next. This is thanks to punchy growls and rumbling basslines that dive deep down, causing as much disturbance as humanly possible. Here (and all across Your Highness), the drum work complements whichever tone is desired of the music at the moment, while the vocals remain tinged with frustration and fortitude (also see “To Wood and Stone”).
The album’s standout for me is closer “Kin’s Blood”, a lengthy track that begins in the aforementioned tremolo-tinted desert, but proceeds onto asphalt to burn serious rubber. It greatly encapsulates the overall variety of tones presented by Your Highness. However, don’t be fooled when things seem to be winding down six minutes in, because before long a decidedly filthy bass guitar cuts across your ears to let you know you’re still far from home, and so very, very far from safety. From here, it’s a gradually increasing crescendo that pushes onward, squeezing every last drop of fuel from the engine until the smell of smoke is overwhelming and it can go no farther.
What Your Highness have accomplished here is a self-titled outing that should leave both album and group proud to bear the name. The bluesy twists that made The Quietus so enjoyable are still present, along with more punch and venom as the band stand in ’revolt to weariness and a need for action’. While some riffs are a tad repetitive in places, it’s an otherwise polished effort that kicks hard and does the job. Memorable, not mesmerising; bold and by no means boring.