In my eyes, the Norwegian alternative band Highasakite always had extra credit for their uncompromising morals and stand on global issues. What‘s perhaps even more valuable was that they never did it with the expectation of getting anything back for it – be it praise or publicity. Their approach was always very civil and humble, more so, it was a core part of their artistic and personal identity. Their music was often dark and almost feral at times, but they raised their voice to bring to light some of humanity‘s most painful memories, so they wouldn‘t become „just“ memories. Those were real moments that happened, and there is power and importance in remembering them. It was like that with the soft Hiroshima, anti-war anthem I, The Hand Granade, and also the chilling Leaving No Traces, giving voice to a victim of domestic abuse. Chernobyl, a devastating and terrifying ballad, found its home on their third album Camp Echo, whose name was, on the other hand, referring to a detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, criticized by human rights organizations and detainee‘s lawyers for its non-satisfactory conditions.Art by Hynek Šnajdr
They were also one of the artists who performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in 2016 alongside artists like Halsey and Sting. Their newest album came out only a few weeks ago, but if it was any later, I am almost certain it would contain some sort of reaction to the current invasion of Ukraine. Immediately after the war’s start, they shared a cover of Dear Past I’ve Seen The Apocalypse And I Wanna Go Home and dedicated it to the people of Ukraine.
Ranking their albums in terms of quality would prove very difficult, if not impossible because they differ so broadly in sound and style. Each of them is unique in one way or another, and none stands out as clearly worse. It would be more so a matter of personal preference of the genre they fall in. It is similar with their newest release, Mother.
“ Though still criminally underrated everywhere else, Highasakite are well known in their native Norway.”
Though still criminally underrated everywhere else, Highasakite are well known in their native Norway. The core of the project is the pair of Ingrid Helene Håvik and Trond Bersu. Håvik is the frontwoman of the band, providing her powerful vocals and unique lyrics, and Bersu is in charge of production and drums. Their first album, All That Floats Will Rain, was released in 2012, later on, the band would grow as they took in additional members, synth player Marte Eberson and multi-instrumentalist Kristoffer Lo, to help expand their sound.Credit: Getty Images
Their second album Silent Treatment was the one that gathered the most attention and attracted fans, it combined Håvik’s powerful voice with just as powerful lyrics about war crimes and violence, juxtapositioned with moments of surprising tenderness. The follow-up Camp Echo was much darker in sound, mood, and production – heavily relying on electronic instruments instead of the more organic feel of the previous effort. They released their fourth album Uranium Heart in 2019, now back in their original formation of two. It was looser in composition and included a few exciting experiments.
Mother is more similar in structure to Camp Echo and Uranium Heart, though it feels more varied than the former and more consistent than the latter. It is not a huge evolution or shift in style, Highasakite are still pretty much utilizing what they know works for them. As always, it stands and falls on Håvik‘s powerful vocals. They are the first thing anyone will notice when listening to the music and are sure to grab the listener’s attention. On this record, the band seems to be very aware of that, finding new ways to utilize Ingrid’s voice.
The showstopping interlude Under The Same Sky uses heavy voice processing and almost no other instruments, the result is nothing short of electrifying. The opener I Just Moved Here has the singer instead sounding very gentle and tender, similar to the closer Can I Come Home, one of the clear standout tracks with a beautiful orchestral outro. The first and last song seems to be in a conversation with each other, and are perhaps the most different and interesting moments. It‘s a bit of a pity that there are not more of them.Credit: Getty Images
The majority of the album consists of a sort of typical Highasakite power songs, though the band uses new methods to make them interesting in terms of production. It works in some cases, while in others it makes the tracks feel too crowded. There are moments where there is little too much happening at once and perhaps the rule of „sometimes less is more“ might prove true. If listening in one sitting, the album feels very dense and heavy, similar to how the experience was with Camp Echo. At least the themes and lyrics are not all as grim. This helps to bring some needed light into the darkness. The three aforementioned songs are joined in that regard with Keep It Alive and Love Him Anyway. None of them are overly optimistic, but compared to the usual heartwrenching mood, it feels lighter.
Love Him Anyway is probably the catchiest song on the album, starting with a lovely synth and straightforward melody, but soon bursting into a complex and high-energy track. I almost wish it would keep its more mellow nature and dropped the big chorus and switch-up in the second half. The problem is that many of the songs follow the same structure, starting slow and relatively simple, only to evolve into either killer bangers or electronic rave. Each has its slight variations and qualities, but the repetition takes away the moment of surprise.
So Cold is no different, starting beautiful and soft, later growing into a busy and eclectic ending part. In this case, the re-surfacing theme doesn‘t hurt as much simply because it is one of the best songs on the record. The Following Autopsy is yet another highlight, incorporating a chorus reminiscent of some Clean Bandit pop hit. It feels so out of place that it’s actually good – it makes it clear that this is a fun experiment and not an attempt to copy current popular music. The track also takes from electronic music and other genres and slowly crystallizes into an almost purely instrumental second part and outro, that transports the listener to a sweaty club, perhaps sometime before the pandemic broke out. It‘s striking and hypnotic and it works really well.
Atomic Sparks is also interesting, using oriental-sounding percussion and a marxophone. It makes the otherwise heavily electronic track more appealing and fresh-sounding. While Håvik’s lyrics are oftentimes very unclear and elusive, here they feel very personal and manage to channel the feelings of frustration and anxiety exceptionally well.
As some songs tend to quite blend together, the less memorable tracks like Mother, Keep It Alive, and Tell Her Yourself get lost in the tracklist. They all have things to offer and sound great individually, but in the mass of the record, the similarities start to show more noticeably. It doesn’t generally mean that it’s not an enjoyable listen, only that it might need some extra time to differentiate and appreciate the bulk of the album, which can feel a bit overwhelming at first.
Mother offers some truly beautiful moments but feels weighed down by its production sometimes. The songs could benefit from a little more space to breathe and I personally prefer the more organic, indie-pop sound of Highasakite’s earlier records. Still, this album is not bad by any means and offers some ambitious and interesting artistic choices. The production takes inspiration from many different artists and genres, dance and electronic music, and current pop trends, there even are some moments that sound straight out of Caroline Polachek’s Pang. It’s exciting to watch the band’s evolution and I already wonder in which direction will they choose to tread next time.
Overall, I rate Highasakite‘s "Mother“ album as follows: