Modern rock music is at a crossroads.
At one end lie the hard rock bands of the previous decade with their detuned guitars and Affliction shirts aplenty.
These groups experienced great success with their arena-ready, catch-all brand of rock.
Much like the hair bands of the ‘80s being phased out by grunge and alternative rock, the likes of Shinedown and Three Days Grace were replaced by indie rock, which lies at the other side of the crossroads.
The guitars were turned down and drowned out with simple drumbeats and atmospheric synths.
This new wave has left many of the old guard struggling for relevance while fans of harder rock cope with alienation.
This brings me to a band called Highly Suspect.
The Massachusetts-based power trio have had quite an impressive run lately, even performing at the Grammys, where they were nominated for Best Rock Song (“Lydia”) and Best Rock Album (“Mister Asylum”).
Although they didn’t walk away with any miniature golden phonographs, the band has certainly made a bold musical statement with “Mister Asylum,” and in my opinion, that statement is the future of hard rock.
“Mister Asylum” highlights the group’s sound: a mix of sludgy guitar riffage and soulful vocals with strong hooks and melodies, all coming from vocalist/guitarist Johnny Stevens.
The rhythm section, consisting of twin brothers Rich (bass guitar) and Ryan Meyer (drums), serves the songs wonderfully as well.
The hit singles such as “Lydia” and “Bloodfeather” make this clear.
Highly Suspect’s biggest strength is taking the classic formula of loud guitars, thundering bass and pounding drums and managing to make something contemporary.
“Bath Salts,” another track from the album showcases the band’s blues influence — an element sorely missing in much of the modern rock of the 2010s (The Black Keys notwithstanding).
Things get quite personal at times with the lyrics on “Mister Asylum,” particularly with “Mom,” in which Stevens sings, “Hey Momma, it’s me your oldest son/ You kissed me on the head and left me out for dead when I was only one.”
Listening to the track, you can’t help but feel like you’re sitting in on a therapy session.
Much is the same for the title track, with its emotional vocals and flexible tempos.
The chorus is a serious earworm, as is the one on “Bloodfeather.”
These are sure to be stuck in your head even after you’re done rocking out to them.
This may be the most important aspect of Highly Suspect’s music — it manages to toe the line between emotion, heaviness and pop sensibility with the greatest of ease.
All in all, “Mister Asylum” shows a band at the beginning of something big.
Then again, only time will tell, but if they keep releasing material as solid as “Mister Asylum,” I’m putting my money on Highly Suspect.