Black State Highway are a motley bunch of young rockers who hail from various parts of Europe but who met at Brighton Institute of Modern Music and are currently based in London. Black State Highway play heavy blues, twinned with metal’s amplification and attitude. Having met at music school it’s perhaps not a surprise that the playing is technically impressive, but the feel and passion evident dismisses fears of baby-faced, soulless prodigies churning out shiny but sterile facsimile’s of real rock songs.
There is no real weak link in this band, everyone gets to shine, but perhaps the first member to really impress is Latvian vocalist Liva Steinberga. Her voice is not one that has the hairs on the back of your neck standing up, but it possesses something maybe rarer, the essence of herself is within it so that you believe whatever she sings. The lyrics, even though they deal in the usual rock staples feel like they are legitimately in her own voice, not just assembled from the rhyming dictionary. Lead out track ‘Conclusion’ is a fine example of this, a tale of a girl dumping her rubbish bloke with the kiss off of – “Sorry love, you’re just not worth it” – it just feels real. It’s not the best song here but showcases her sass and the bands fabulously fluid blues rock chops, with excellently supple bass by Gordon Duncan, leading from the front and holding the whole thing together.
The first real classic is ‘Broken’ an epic in feel and composition, the guitar playing of Olie Trethaway and Yonnis Crampton is dextrous, classy and very assured ( The Temperance Movement‘s string slinger’s Paul Sayer and Luke Potashnick are similar in their strengths.) ‘Broken’ and next number ‘Free’ make up the twin peaks of this album. ‘Free’ has a bruised bluesy swing and is grungy like Black Label Society. The song is packed with light and shade and builds to a massive rolling riff of immense power that I would love to witness live. By the hair-raisingly wild close of the song the whole band appear to be achieving rock nirvana
‘Sacrifice’ is powerful if more trad in form and possesses a great chugging rhythmic energy. Within it’s squalling guitars and punishing drums there’s a hint of Soundgarden‘s twisted 70’s metal classicism gone weird.
Now ‘Tekkers’ is funky blast of horny girl power that gives a tingle on every play. The character of Liva‘s voice convincing of her desire – the “I’m a little upset and I’m not that patient” line is a smirking understatement. There are dazzling guitar solos towards the close and this track seals my belief that Trethaway and Crampton are the best new guitar duo I’ve heard this year.
I’m growing to admire ‘Common Man’ too – a heavy blues protest song with a light touch. The lyrics dealing in the cynicism and compromise that blacken so many political careers.
So here we have eight tracks, absolutely no fat, every moment a grin-inducing triumph for the forces of rock. Black State Highway are a credit to their school, a credit to the European Union and a credit to rock n’roll.