High Spy have actually been around for a few years now, having formed in 2007 and The Code is their fifth studio album release, although this review copy is the first time I have come across them. Probably more my fault than theirs. The actual album consists of 8 tracks running at a little under 40 minutes, although there are also single versions of three of the tracks available. Prior to forming High Spy, the band have quite a lengthy pedigree so they do know what they are about.
What they are about is a slice of neo-prog with a healthy smattering of hard-riffing metal and some rather pleasant and promising power balladry. Founder member Mark Price on keyboards certainly stamps the entire affair with the requisite tones and runs to spread a proggy sheen and his playing shines through the recording. As does the whole band when they are playing driving hard rock like I Am The Code. But here's the problem, there are moments that are illuminating, including the addition of Charmaine Baines on backing vocals at the end adding some variety and depth of tone. And also giving the game away. Up until that point I thought what I was listening to was a demo, or at least an 'as live' recording. Apart from Ms Baines and the keys, it's a muddied affair that sounds as if it was recorded in a barn with the vocal overdubbed from the spare bedroom. Certainly none of the vocals sound comfortable, especially moving into anything like an upper register. It also sounds as though it's all being played just a touch too slowly, which only goes to emphasise that it's all pretty standard fare with some horribly bland lyrics. I'm afraid that I couldn't engage with the story which starts with a burst of Morse Code and some Churchillian rhetoric and seems to go nowhere. I'm not sure quite where it ended. I did wonder whether the grotty sound was due to some steganographic message hidden in the sound files which, when decoded would unscramble everything. But I lack the will. However, I did enjoy the two closing tracks, Love Your Face and Tough At The Top. For all their pop-melodic sensibilities, they showed the band in a better light and thinking that in many ways I did enjoy this, and would probably enjoy it live, even if I can't recommend it as a recording.
Since this album was released, I notice the band has a new bassist and are in the process of hiring a specialist vocalist. Which is all positive and bodes well for the future, as long as someone can fly the mixing desk.
** Andrew Cottrell
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