Few bands have suffered from the dreaded “sophomore slump” in recent memory as much as Los Angeles’ All Hail the Yeti, The metal world waited four long years following their promising, self-titled, 2012 debut, only to be greeted by the abominably disappointing Screams from a Black Wilderness (2016), which saw the quartet indulging the least appealing aspects of their semi-eclectic sound. Things seem to be firmly back on track, however, with their timely third offering, Highway Crosses, which sees the band doubling down on all of the elements that made them so appealing in the first place.
Although All Hail the Yeti’s sound is ultimately fairly straightforward, it can be hard to pin down in a single breath. The closest I’ve come is “sludgy groove metal”, but the band’s sound also combines aspects of southern rock, stoner metal, metalcore and occasional dips into nu-metal to come up with something that, while certainly in no way innovative or even unique, is nevertheless distinctive and often refreshing. Screams from a Black Wilderness was billed as a narrative sequel to their debut’s stand-out number “After the Great Fire”, which suggested that the Californians had a good grasp of the more successful elements of their sound. Yet, what ultimately turned up—following a lengthy four-year interim—often came off like a less-polished version of Hellyeah and lacked a lot of the subtle variation of their debut. Though it was seemingly well received at the time it also seemed like a lot of the wind had been taken out of the band’s proverbial sails. Not willing to let their momentum drop a second time around, Highway Crosses delivers some prompt course correction—harking back to the rawer sound of the debut, while also constituting the outfit’s most refined effort to date.
Although it never strays too far from its central concept, Highway Crosses keeps things fresh by frequently mixing things up. Openers “Life Everyday” and “See You Never” sound like mellower Mastodon meets Vision Of Disorder, with this unlikely mix going on to form the central trunk of what’s to come. The first big departure is the title-track—a melodic banger that brings to mind Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, circa III (2009), with the crunch turned right up. The slick groove of its main riff and, bassist, Nicholas Diltz’s smooth, clean vocal tones mix with, vocalist, Connor Garritty’s menacing undertones to create an irresistible, uplifting anthem out of its decidedly dark subject matter, which remains pervasive throughout. Garritty’s glorious snarl of “It’s a wonderful night for a sacrifice” which brings the song into its second verse stands among the most memorable vocal moments of 2018. It’s then that the record truly kicks into top gear, and the fact that when the contrastingly reserved “Slow Season” comes in it sounds more like a thundering, down-tempo climax to the same number, rather than the beginning of a new one, only goes to show how thoroughly All Hail the Yeti are able to harness the beast they’ve summoned on this third outing.
From there, the band ride the wave of forward momentum all the way to the record’s harrowing climax. Saving such a standout song as “The Nuclear Dust” until the end is the perfect masterstroke to ensure Highway Crosses remains a well-rounded effort. The track is perhaps the furthest All Hail the Yeti have delved into Mastodon-style sludginess, and the harrowing declaration that “it will be all over soon” rounds out the record in suitably apocalyptic fashion. The album is not without its flaws, however. “Syemore Avenue” takes the band’s previous preoccupation with horror and fantasy violence and applies it to the all-too-real and relatively fresh horrors of the Cleveland kidnappings, which brings a genuine sense of darkness to proceedings, but is handled with about all the subtly and sensibility you’d expect of a band called All Hail the Yeti. It’s an effective strategy, but one which appears to stream from a desire to be “edgy” than from any real application of nuance and is, at best, ill-conceived. “Anti-Social Media”, on the other hand, is about as downright embarrassing as its title suggests, with any revulsion it inspires, again, stemming less from any difference of opinion than it does from poor execution.
Missteps aside, Highway Crosses remains a remarkable record that, while not perhaps the ultimate expression of All Hail the Yeti’s sound certainly suggests such a realization is on the horizon. The band have now managed to pull together a formidable collection of songs that they can bring to the live front, while this third record constitutes their most fully realised effort to date. All signs point to the Californians becoming a considerable force within their various spheres, should they manage maintain their upward trajectory, and there’s enough here to please fans of both heavier and more accessible music alike. Definitely, one to keep an eye on.
Highway Crosses is out now. Worship via the Bandcamp link(s) above.