Acid, Riffs and Evil Warlords: Inside the Bloodsoaked Thrash of High Command

Photo: Courtney Brooke

Aided by an armoury of riffs and drenched in the blood of their enemies, Massachusetts’ High Command re-emerged at the tail-end of last year to provide us with Everlasting Torment, a new EP that offers a mere taste of the devastation they have to offer. The two tracks that comprise the release were more than enough to remind us exactly why they’re one of the most exciting thrash bands going. In fact, the five-piece’s full-throttle crossover assault is perhaps the most vicious and potent currently in circulation, combining the gnarly grit of Cro-Mags with the savage intensity of modern thrash and the epic fantasy flourishes of classic heavy metal, all caked in more blood than Carrie on prom night.

For the band, this new EP is merely a stopgap on the way to bigger things. “We had plans to leave a trail of destruction across the world but Covid-19 beat us to the punch,” says the band’s Kevin Fitzgerald when Astral Noize gets in touch. “Everlasting Torment is a reminder that we’re still here and ready to heed the call of madness when the time is right.”

Musically, the EP picks up where 2019 full-length debut Beyond The Wall Of Desolation left off, without being a direct continuation. “I think that while we progress as musicians you’ll see a natural evolution with High Command,” Fitzgerald suggests. “The riffs are getting more technical, solos are more refined, we’re just striving to outdo ourselves with each record. It will always be hard-hitting metal that makes the listener want to charge into battle. We’re getting better at executing our ideas and Everlasting Torment gives you a taste of what’s to come.”

Fitzgerald’s role in this sound is key, given that he is responsible for the band’s ferocious howls, but as lyricist he’s also always adding to the band’s own mythology. High Command bring the grittfantasy seen in other metal subgenres to the realm of thrash, with an epic story full of evil warlords and rebellious heroes. “That just originated from a tab of acid and my failure to write anything good in the traditional realm,” the vocalist admits. “I find it a lot easier and more fun to write lyrics when I’m creating a bit of a story with a certain vibe. The music always comes first but we make a conscious effort to create an atmosphere that will help immerse the listener.”

That atmosphere is maintained throughout their music, giving extra weight to an already barbaric sound, but it’s more than an aesthetic choice – there is some genuine worldbuilding involved. “I’m no writer by any means but I made a conscious effort for Beyond The Wall Of Desolation to form a story,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s set in the kingdom of Secartha, a harsh and unforgiving landscape carved by ice and stone. The main character Dikeptor gets tipped off by an entity in the forest that Tytericon (an evil warlord) is plotting world domination using mysterious forces from beyond the wall. The album follows Dikeptor’s journey across the realm in quest to destroy Tytericon and restore order to the kingdom. As we continue I definitely plan on growing the lore with every release, hopefully getting better as a lyricist and making things more cohesive.”

The world of High Command is one ripped straight from mythology-inspired novels by the likes of Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock and J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as ambitious sword and sorcery films like Fire And Ice, Sorceress and Red Sonja and epic video games such as Dark Souls, God Of War and Skyrim. “I’m also influenced by nature a lot,” the vocalist adds. “I’m lucky enough to be able to go into the woods everyday and just imagine crazy shit.”

Within the confines of their ruthless thrash, the band have curated their own fantastical world and narrative, with Fitzgerald taking inspiration from the lyrical genius of the late Ronnie James Dio. As such, their music is perfect for putting some much-needed mental distance between yourself and the struggles of real life, akin to enjoying the novels, films and video games that inspire their lyrics. And yet, like with any fictional world, it’s hard to fully detach whilst listening. The notion of escapism in art is somewhat of a double-edged sword. Sure, we all need a distraction from this really rather grim reality, but strive as we might, it’s impossible to fully distance yourself from the world in which we exist, nor a piece of art from the society in which it was created. It’s a dichotomy Fitzgerald is well aware of.

“The world today is a dark depressing place,” he agrees. “Especially this past year, just when you think things can’t get any worse you get hit with another blow. So there is definitely a lot of escapism in my lyrics. Everyone could use a break here and there and what better way to do that than with some riffs and a joint? That being said, these issues cannot be ignored and I have made parallels in the past. For example ‘Forged To Kill’ is about a village being oppressed by a malevolent leader. Dikeptor and his horde discover this along their journey and unleash an attack on him and his guards to liberate the oppressed. I’m really sickened by the racism and police brutality in our country. I definitely had that on my mind while writing that song. I’m sure I’ll continue doing things like that in the future.”

High Command’s grim medieval influences definitely lend their music its own distinct atmosphere, and have helped make the band the formidable force that they are today, but it’s also refreshing to see a band aware that music cannot truly be apolitical, even fantastical thrash set in a fictional world. Despite having their own distinct sound and image, the band still manage to pay homage to thrash’s storied history of engaging with sociopolitical issues.

We’re excited to see what’s next in story for High Command and the world they’ve created, and thankfully Fitzgerald leaves us with a tantalising promise: “High Command is marching onward so expect another LP and a cloud of sonic devastation across the globe when we’re able to take the stage again.”

Everlasting Torment is out now on digital from Southern Lord, with a vinyl release coming soon from Triple B.

Words: George Parr

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