Cape Cod rock trio Highly Suspect first started out doing covers in bars around the Massachusetts area. After relocating to New York and releasing multiple EPs, they dropped their highly-anticipated debut album ‘Mister Asylum’. It’s clear to see why this record earned them two Grammy nominations, thanks to its dark, blues rock aesthetic and impressive instrumental & vocal performances.
At first, there’s a certain enigma within the opening title track. As the runtime nears the thirty second mark, guitarist-vocalist Johnny Stevens delivers a swift down-tuned guitar chord that rattles and reverberates, until rupturing into a gauntlet of filthy, distorted goodness. Stevens’ soulful, tangy vocals soar above the underlying distortion, creating the first memorable moment and track of many.
As demonstrated with following cut ‘Lost’, it’s clear the band are delivering a balls-to-the-wall assault on the senses, pairing up sweet rock grooves with dancey drum beats and basslines. ‘Lydia’, the Grammy-nominated “Best Rock Song” is built from a chugging verse riff that transpires into a colossal, distortion-soaked chorus as Stevens claims that he “can’t fucking breathe”.
The trio’s marriage of blues rock with a darker, Queens of the Stone Age-like stoner feel is best embodied in ‘Bath Salts’, driven by a slow-burning guitar refrain. Rather than having a conventional vocal chorus, the band choose to let the riffs speak for themselves, with Stevens bending his guitar strings to the high heavens.
Stevens demonstrates an adept vocal range, often transitioning his style as shown in ‘Mom’ with his semi-spoken vocals evolving into angsty shouts. ‘Bloodfeather’ showcases drummer Ryan Meyer’s enthusiastic playing style, dropping in tom-tom beats here and there to offer variation and layer out the band’s sound. Likewise, brother Rich uses his bass to generate uptempo, dancey rhythms in many cuts.
Closing track ‘Claudeland’ is a self-contained manifestation of Highly Suspect’s brand of sound. The erratic guitar intro evolves into a thrashy, fast-paced beat. Hell, even Stevens tells you to “dance, dance motherfucker dance” so if you ain’t got the picture by this point, you’re in the wrong place Mister.
Although, the real special moment of this track is the magnificent, bluesy breakdown that ultimately concludes the record. Seriously, just go listen to that thing. Ooft.
‘Mister Asylum’ is as muscular as it is oozing with confidence. Their brand of blues/hard rock with significant stoner and grunge influences makes for an intriguing amalgamation. For a first offering from a band who were once covering Hendrix numbers in a sleazy, Cape Cod bar, it ain’t half bad.
Essential tracks: Mister Asylum // Lydia // Bath Salts // Claudeland