The climate of hard drum & bass this year has seen many producers looking back to the early eras for funky beats, sub bass more complicated than the foghorn and crunchy, metallic synths SCAR have always pulled all these elements forward in their work, however, and it seems they’re expanding. Their last EP in May, Hide In Plain Sight, was an aggressive, amen-riddled ride through the history of heavy synths. The second of the three Headz releases due out in succession is more thought-provoking and experimental. Per the title, however, High Fives & Devil Eyes out last Friday on Headz is still not lacking for dark and heavy flavor.
There’s a lot of variance in High Fives & Devil Eyes, both between tracks and within each song. It’s clearly meant to be listened to as a whole and tell a story. The trajectory of the album sort of has a road-trip-out-of-Fear-and-Loathing-but-in-space feel, in the best possible way. It goes from dark and heavy to minimal and contemplative to melodic to beatless and formless and back again. The album is just as easy to listen to alone in a car at night as its heavier tracks are to dance to at a club or festival.
One of the biggest surprises on this album and for SCAR fans in general will be the afore-mentioned beatless, ambient tracks, of which there are several. While “Can’t Do Anything With It,” “Thinking Out Loud” and “Nomad” seem like short interludes (and in fact “Nomad” is tagged as an interlude) to tie sections of the album together, they are also their own singular experimental pieces. “Can’t Do Anything With It” has a Tangerine Dream feel to it: compositional, spatially aware and ominous all at the same time. “Thinking Out Loud” is more a storyteller. It sounds like a space ship revving up, ready to drop into the scrambled, kicky “Pauline.”
The other big surprise on High Fives & Devil Eyes is the presence of melody, to the point of there even being some liquid vibes here. The penultimate track on the album “Torn Apart” is the best example of this, with an actual full vocal track and an uplifting backing melody, not to mention the light and airy snares. The album closer “Eternal” featuring Eleanor Higgins also has that vibe but the snappy toms and ambient background make it more ambient than liquid.
With all these surprises, it should be no surprise that the bulk of the album is still dedicated to all things darkstep, if from a different angle. From album opener “Circle of Trust” with its crunchy, heavy synth amidst feather-light snares to “Funk Control” in which heavy, chunky bass weaves around a funky beat to “The Seeker,” whose sub bass makes up the main melody, it’s obvious SCAR still aren’t afraid to get low. Even the darker tracks, however, have a lot of surprisingly lighter and more ambient elements.
Overall each track on High Fives & Devil Eyes has a vast variance of style so despite there being taggable elements like darkstep and liquid, it’s really a mistake to try to fully characterize any single track, or indeed the whole album, with too much specific language. SCAR’s intention here is to take the listener on a journey. Said listener will encounter a variety of recognizable sounds on said journey but the story the album tells as a whole much more important. What’s the story? That’s up to each person listening to decide. That’s the genius of SCAR.
High Fives & Devil Eyes is out now on Metalheadz and can be purchased or streamed on multiple platforms here.