Primitive Origins: High Tide’s “Sea Shanties”

Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.

Deep in the depths of Facebook there is a wonderful group called Day After the Sabbath Followers, filled with lovers of proto-metal; it’s a great place to hang out to find new proto-metal rarities to discover, and it’s where I first heard of High Tide (shout-out to whatever proto-metal maniac that was that brought them to my attention).

The band formed in England in 1969 and issued their debut, Sea Shanties, that same year; clearly, they had a nautical theme going on, and they also had a violin—courtesy of Simon House, who also played with Hawkwind, David Bowie, Nektar and many, many others—going on, which makes me want to run for cover. But I’d heard good things, so I took the deep dive into their debut to see what the sea… yeah, I listened to it and wrote about it and here we go.

“Futilist’s Lament” kicks things off, and I initially thought that it was called “Flautist’s Lament,” which would be pretty awesome, considering I don’t want flutes or violins near my metal. Regardless, I’m impressed right away with the heaviness of the riff that opens this one up, High Tide immediately scoring high on the proto-metal heaviness rankings. Once the Jim Morrison-ish croonings kick in, and the band begins their strange journey to a prog-heavy, psych-ed out proto-metal, I have to admit it’s all clicking together nicely. There’s a lot going on here; I actually paused the song for a second to make sure I didn’t have two things playing at once, which is a huge compliment. But it’s not prog for the sake of prog by any means, as this song is a well-composed and well-structured song, every one of its five minutes thoroughly enjoyable. When the opening riff comes back at the end, forget about it. Huge win to start the album here, and very heavy for 1969.

“Death Warmed Up” is next, and gets serious points for that name, and for being a nine-minute instrumental placed as track two on the band’s debut. And, I never thought I’d say this—never, ever, ever—but, damn, that violin player is kicking some ass here. This is a killer song, huge, cinematic, well-played, must have been a blast live. Amazingly, this song doesn’t get boring, and it goes on for a long time. Awesome: two songs in, two winners so far (take that, Vincebus Eruptum!), and an argument could easily be made to trace Mastodon’s nautical-epic-prog-metal work back to this song right here and no earlier.

“Pushed, But Not Forgotten” takes things down a notch to remind me how much I hate The Doors but manages to get in some hard enough rockin’ later on, the band on a tripped-out progressive journey, changing parts on a dime, kinda going nowhere and everywhere all at once, violin again, amazingly, adding instead of detracting. Not as excellent as the first two tunes but not bad.

The superbly titled “Walking Down their Outlook” is next, the band again threatening to remind me of Morrison and his crew just a bit too much, then taking us into the haunted house with the spooky-time riffs, which then turn to a labyrinthine prog exploration… hell of a song here, really, the band on track four of six just going for it, violin leading the charge, everything clicking almost amusingly well. Why exactly isn’t High Tide, or at least this album, more talked about?

“Missing Out” brings to the forefront the other sound that High Tide has been flirting with throughout the album, this tentative take on proto-doom, moreso in spirit than in Sabbath-heavy sludge. This song does end up picking up the pace (and it’s got time to, being another nine-plus-minute tune) but it drops it again, the band just opening up and relaxing, giving us enjoyable proto-doom/prog with violin, a claim to fame that not many can share. I like this song, High Tide never getting lost in it, instead taking us along for a very fun trip.

The album closes off with “Nowhere,” which I like because it teases with a riff reminiscent of the blues at the start before going back into devil-may-care prog/proto-metal, and that reminds me that this album featured no lame blues and no agonizing covers, two hallmarks of early proto-metal releases. Well done, High Tide, and well done on this bonkers prog-fest closer, a song that really ends things with a nice summation of what High Tide are all about, which was a whole lot of weird, wild, enjoyable fun, the band 100 percent in possession of their own personality, and in possession of more than a few excellent proto-metal riffs too, making this album definitely worthy of your time.

High Tide’s Sea Shanties – The Decibel breakdown:

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: Nope.

Heaviness factor: Up there, despite the violin action. Some seriously heavy proto riffs are on this album.

Obscura Triviuma: Some of the band’s later releases, featuring a very different lineup, were heavy on improvised jams (and, amazingly, some of it is quite good; check out “Ancient Gates/Starless Skylines” to hear a guitar lick to die for… over and over and over).

Other albums: A handful; you can definitely spend a few nights exploring this catalog.

Related bands: Hawkwind, The Misunderstood, Nektar, a million others.

Alright, fine, if you must: ’Shrooms sound about right.