“This time we had no room for Flying V guitars, but instead focused on solid single-coil sound. The new sound created a bigger space for vocals and arrangements…” – Night guitarist Sammy Ouirra
That quote is as succinct a summation of the fundamental differences between previous Night and High Tides – Distant Skies as I could ever hope to make, but allow me a bit of leeway to expand upon it…
Of course, switching from Gibsons to Fenders doesn’t mean that Night’s gone light, by any means. There’s still plenty of guitar-slingin’ and fret-burnin’ going on around these parts, and fundamentally, the band’s formula hasn’t been drastically altered, only the guitar tone with which they deliver it. Those less-wooly single coil sounds function exactly as Sammy intends them to function: They allow more sonic space for the songs to breathe, to move, and for Oskar Andersson’s reedy tenor to fly above the power chords. (Guitarist Ouirra also proves his skills behind the mic with a few lead vocals of his own, but it’s Andersson’s voice that provides Night’s most distinctive vocal character.) This twist on the production works well for Night; it’s both retro and modern, both muscular and more refined, not overwhelming the songs but providing them with a rock-solid solid rock base to complement the soaring hooks and the searing leads.
So if High Tides’ lighter and brighter sheen buoys its songs, then what of those songs themselves? Well, from the funky bounce of the eminently engaging “Shadow Gold” onward, High Tides is a strong collection of 70s-rock-indebted tunes, with bits and bobs borrowed from the usual suspects, deconstructed and reconstructed into a rock ‘n’ roll Frankenstein, both in that it’s a monster and that it deserves your love. An unexpected left-turn comes with “Crimson Past,” which sounds like BÖC riffing on Dire Straits, with Night nailing the Knopfler tone and licks so perfectly that one might think this is a more metallic take on a track by the Sultans Of Swing themselves. Rocking and grooving through the highlights like the midtempo “Falling In The Black” and the galloping “Here In My Own,” High Tides ends on twin high notes in the closing tandem of “Give Me To The Night” and “Under The Moonlight Sky,” the both of them proving that Night still has plenty of metal lurking behind those shiny new Stratocasters. The former of those tracks rips through plenty of hard-driving NWOBHM-redux riffage, like some long-lost Saxon gem, while the latter — the album’s first teaser track — is a more epic take on the hard rock that precedes it, cast into the Strat-osphere (get it?) with disco-gold synth strings and a simple-yet-killer “Burnin’ For You” guitar skank in the verses.
High Tides is a hair less metallic, overall, than Raft Of The World, but it’s still got the spirit and it’s still got the style. Alongside the new High Spirits and the stellar Conundrum from their friends, countrymen, and tourmates Hällas, both Night and High Tides – Distant Skies prove handily that hard rock’s past still has a bright future. Always looking backwards, and still moving forward.