It's now time for our 72nd monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, marking six straight years of monthly album reviews on the site, so thanks to everyone for following along then, now, and beyond! This month, we're taking a look at a Mike Haggith solo album for the fifth time, that being his 49th and newest CD "The Warinside", which was released on Bandcamp on May 31st in advance of the hyped release concert at The Rednecks Saloon on Friday. Alternately spelled "The Warrenside" in many postings as an inside joke from the album booklet, this album is a concept release themed around personal events in Mike's life from last year. Recorded at Galactic Records in Windsor save for vocals, one song, and guest parts (which were done locally at Paperclip Productions), Mike is once again the primary instrumentalist on the album, but he was joined by his Haggith/Din bandmate Curtis McKenzie on guitar and/or backing vocals on all but 4 songs.
As well, Curtis gets co-writing credit on the last song too, and Candace Warren is credited as a co-writer on the third track. "The Warinside" is now available on Bandcamp on a "name your price" model, but physical copies will be available starting Friday for a price to be announced, but at the release show, $10 gets you the CD and concert admission. There are free streams of the album on Bandcamp & YouTube as well (song names are linked to YouTube copies), but consider buying the album to support Mike's work! Featuring 10 songs at about 49 minutes in length, let's kick off this review with the first song!
First is "We Met As Surrogates", which opens the album with background noise and samples of what sounds like the outdoors near a highway before the music fully takes over 90 seconds in with a continuation of the orchestral rock sounds of Mike's late-era solo material. The sung stretches of the song is suitably energetic with bite, and Curt's guitar solo flows well between them, but the drums here do sound programmed, which gives the song more of an artificial sound, especially considering Mike's drumming background. The song has good emotion and flows with the personal themes of the album (included samples of a phone ringing), and it's an effective way to start the disc! Next is "The Snake", which is a softer and more traditional song that has some romantic overtones and an overall optimistic vibe that makes use of the symphonic keyboard work. Mike and Curt harmonize well vocally on choruses, and the drums sound more natural, but fans of Mike's heavier songs may be left wanting more
Third on the album is "Candy Is A Hooker's Name", and this is keeps the upbeat tone going with a bit more of a chorus edge, albeit a little empty sounding on verses, with Mike singing only overtop of drums and keyboard (though note that this Curtis isn't featured here.) The beat is catchy on the bridge, it's not overly long, and Mike's vocals are smooth and fit the themes, but this track could use a more prominent guitar role to push it over the top. Then we have "Someday", which is the longest song on the CD, and also the slowest yet, with a shift in both musical and lyrical tone that meshes with Mike's personal life events that are documented with this album. The first completely solo track with no guest performers or writers, "Someday" is a well layered and thought out song that definitely seems like Mike poured his emotion into it while maintaining the symphonic structure, and while I prefer his more upbeat and heavier songs, this serves it's purpose!
"Lay My Body Down To Rest", which was originally on Mike's 2009 solo release "I Hate My Life & I Want To Die". The original version is largely the same song in structure and lyrics, but the new re-recording makes use of grander symphonic use, better recording quality, and more experienced musicianship, and is also 12 seconds longer. It's definitely a better and fuller realized version of this song, and given the album's current trajectory, it fits fine as sort of the symbolic "low point" of the story, despite being a re-recording of a 6 year old song for a new concept release. Dark and moody, but also grand sounding! That's followed by "Of Cars & Criminals", which begins with what sounds like a vinyl record starting before transitioning into the actual song, with a softer guitar riff yet a more upbeat sound aided by the backing keyboard. Curtis returns on guitar and backing vocals here, adding a little something extra to this song, which admittedly sounds a bit too "fun" compared to the lyrics, but fans of Mike's regular songs will appreciate the return to form!
Seventh is "September", which is the CD's shortest track, and also the only instrumental. It transitions from a solo piano performance to including other instruments, but never wavers from it's overall ambiance, complete with background effects of rain and what sound like cars driving down the road. It's a nice and well-composed bridge between songs, but on it's own, there's not a lot there for fans of Mike's heavier and fuller material. Next up is "Out Of My League", which has a nice catchy choruses while maintaining a melancholy vibe, complete with low and minimalistic verses that mesh with the personal nature of the album, but here, the keyboard parts are less orchestral and more for effects and melody. It's a solid track, and definitely one of the better late ones on "The Warinside", but Curt's backing vocals are barely audible, and the closing twinkle effects don't add a lot to the song.
Second-last is "A Drive Through The Peninsula", which itself begins with an intricate symphonic opening before Mike kicks in with vocals and drums, giving off a purposeful, march-like vibe musically. The song has effective vocals and intensity without going into full metal territory, but aside from Curtis' guest guitar work, the song doesn't stray from it's initial formula, and to me, it sounds unfinished, like there was a tempo change that never came. Not a bad track though, and Mike's multi-instrumenral talents are clear as day here! The CD closes with "30", which is the only song fully recorded in Sault Ste. Marie, and the only one that Curtis co-wrote (he also plays rhythm guitar here too, instead of just a solo), so this might be of extra note for fans of their Haggith band work! A slow building song that is arguably the heaviest on the album once it kicks into gear, "30" features interesting vocal effects, a strong aggressive edge in the second half, and nice casual playing early, while largely getting away from the earlier symphonics. Very strong closer to the album, and a fitting culmination to this personal tale, with a shock ending not unlike on Haggith's "Apocalypse" CD!
So, what are my thoughts of "The Warinside" I'd have to say that it's a strong statement and well layered release that definitely lays out events of Mike Haggith's personal life. Is it a coincidence that the song's orchestral and symphonic elements begin getting phased out in the second half? Mike is a talented musician on multiple instruments, and he shows that here once again, with his deep yet melodic singing voice fleshing out even more here, but the use of programmed drums (especially given his live drumming work with the band Haggith) still seems odd. Curtis McKenzie is a solid hand as a backing singer and guest guitarist on featured tracks, helping give a fuller band sound at times and definitely boosting things with his solos, but Din fans may miss drummer Brandan Glew on the studio recordings. Key songs like key songs like "30", "Someday", and "A Drive Through The Peninsula" help this album stand up with Mike's other recent studio releases, but it may surpass them based on it's overall story arc.
Also, I definitely saw similarities between this album and the Haggith band's concept release "Apocalypse" (which we reviewed last month, and also features Mike as the central character and main singer), especially in the mood shift, but "The Warinside" definitely strikes more for realism and emotion. Whether you like softer, heavier, or orchestral material, Mike covers all ground here, and it'll be interesting to see what he (and The Din?) have in store next! Buy Mike's new album at the above links (or at Rednecks THIS FRIDAY), and I hope you guys liked this month's CD review! Next month's review will be of a new release, and as of right now, we're leaning towards Dafter, Michigan hard rock musician SweetKenny's newest release "Fleabag Hotel", which was released in May, but wasn't past our 6 month anti-bias buffer period at the time. It's possible that another bigger album could supercede it if released, but we will let you know if a change is announced.
For reference, Haggith's new 2015 albums, Telephone & Address' upcoming "Monster" CD, and anything by Mike Haggith or Treble Charger are ineligible for July, as all are within our 6 month buffer period from our last reviews of theirs, but look for "Apocalypse II" and "Monster" (if released) in the fall if all goes well! That's all for today, but stay tuned for Canada Day concert previews and more TOMORROW! Thanks everyone!