Youngblood Supercult, High Plains: Mindful Drift (Plus Track Premiere)


Midwestern fuzz ideologues Youngblood Supercult release their sophomore full-length, High Plains, on Feb. 19. An 11-track/48-minute CD with double-vinyl impending for this summer, it follows early 2014’s debut, Season of the Witch, and marks a significant change in vibe on the part of the graphic-design-inclined Topeka, Kansas, three-piece. Where the debut took a classic metal bent toward heavy rock, more straightforward and rhythmically driving, High Plains offers plenty of sonic weight — the guitar and bass working together on “Black Hawk,” or the clawing “Nomad” earlier on — but takes a more lurching, atmospheric approach overall. This seems to have been a purposeful shift in aesthetic as much as one of lineup, but either way, it suits them.

Formerly a four-piece with a standalone singer, Youngblood Supercult lost both their bassist and frontman between the two records, leaving guitarist Bailey Smith and drummer Weston Alford to pick up the pieces and continue ahead, recruiting David Merrill first to fill the vocalist role and eventually the bassist one as well prior to recording with Jon Pederzani at Bone Hag Studios. That’s no minor challenge to overcome, and it’s produced no minor shift when listening to the first record next to the second one, the most lysergic vibe of which bleeds through from the intro “Stone Mountain Blues” through the penultimate buzzer “Acid Tongue” and the folkish closer “Down 75.” Merrill has a decidedly ’70s bent to his vocals and while the band overall boasts a mostly modern sound — if one drawing somewhat from the New Millennium Analog pastiche — their core sensibility is organic throughout and effective in signaling the shift in their intent.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are distinct moments where High Plains sounds like a debut. Youngblood Supercult have been a band for two and a half years, and they’ve worked quickly in that time, but with a sonic turn and new lineup, it makes sense these songs would sound fresh. That doesn’t hurt them. Hypnotic grooves persist as they play bright guitars over warm low-end on “Monolith,” Smith‘s guitar chugging a lurker verse behind Merrill‘s echoing vocals pushed along by Alford‘s fills in the chorus. A more forward-directed stomp takes hold for a brief solo and they end to give way to “Nomad,” one of several memorable highlights throughout High Plains, with tinges of Uncle Acid and maybe even Mars Red Sky prevalent in the guitar and vocals and a Sabbathian nod that holds sway even as they pick up the pace after the midpoint.

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The ensuing “Before the Dawn” is shorter but no less tonally engrossing than “Nomad” before or “Mind Control” after, the heady vibe adding a level of confidence as the song seems to cut itself short (granted that might be an error with the file I got), as the folkier centerpiece “White Nights” begins to unfold on tom rolls, subdued guitar and Merrill‘s best included vocal performance, tapping into a quiet/loud dynamic range as it moves into its second half that emphasizes the growth underway in Youngblood Supercult‘s sound. Guitars space out over a languid bassline and swinging drums, and that expansion persists until eventually the track is pulled apart around the solo. A purposeful departure from the structural soundness the band has thus far shown, it’s another example of how they’re finding their way with these songs.

What I’ll assume marks the start of the second LP, “Hell Hath No Fury” begins with a more swinging progression that recalls “Monolith” or “Nomad” in its verse/chorus intent but features especially satisfying lead work from Smith, first in its midsection and then in its fadeout, moving into the seven-minute album high-point “Forefather,” which blends the semi-psychedelic aspects of Youngblood Supercult‘s style with the folkish impulse of “White Nights” into the most resonant hook on offer, “Oh man, oh man/I got my mother’s eyes,” departing from some of the cult rock lyricisms present elsewhere as it turns on a dime into a prog-metal riff with stops and starts before hitting the brakes and tripping out behind its guitar solo, as extended as it is satisfying when the verse kicks back in.

They end with that hook, and rightly so, and the more raucous early going of “Black Hawk” effectively buries Merrill‘s voice under crash cymbals and guitar and bass fuzz, and playing well against “Acid Tongue”‘s later shuffle to summarize much of what’s working in the band’s favor throughout High Plains before the acoustic “Down 75” closes out. There’s a substantial part of me that wishes they worked in more quiet, subdued moments like the closer across the album, since they do it so well and it makes an excellent showcase for the vocals, but as noted, they’re still growing and it would be just as easy to overdo it as to do it, so perhaps that would be fixing what isn’t broken in their sound. Still, as a last-minute expansion of their approach, it fits well, and reminds that while Youngblood Supercult clearly have their aesthetic path carved out for them as the trio they are now, they remain engaged in a growth process that, one hopes, will continue as they move forward from here, having taken full advantage of this opportunity to partially revamp what they do.

Below, you can hear a track premiere of “Hell Hath No Fury,” as chosen by the band. Under the player, Smith offers some comment on the song. Please enjoy:

Bailey Smith (guitar) on “Hell Hath No Fury”:

Well, a lot of people think it’s about a scorned lover. I actually wrote it in the throes of a bad panic attack. It’s a personification of anxiety, and how unforgiving it can be, in musical form. A lot of our songs have very personal, subliminal meanings. People hear the shell of a song’s lyrics and create their own meanings for them. That’s what music is for — it’s all subjective.

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