“I see the hands of time
Race by my tired eyes.”
Those two lines, the first two you hear in House Of Heroes’ newest full length album, “Cold Hard Want,” tell you just about everything you need to know concerning the band’s latest effort. Throughout their history, the Columbus-based group has continually produced stellar material, from the explosive debut of “Say No More,” to the multifaceted “The End Is Not The End,” and finally with the radio-ready “Suburba.” But despite that consistent work, they’ve never quite parlayed it into mainstream success, always finding themselves on the outside looking in. So when their voices come together in that charming a cappella intro track, the fatigue they speak of doesn’t exactly come off as a bad thing. Instead, it comes off as a reason to make their most urgent and accessible record of their career. And while it’s not the band’s best work — musically or lyrically — it still may be that breakthrough album they so desperately seek.
They continue on the topic of their viability in “Out My Way, the album’s second track. In between rhythmic pounding of the drums, Tim Skipper sings, seeming to ask his casual fans, “If they could make me a carbon copy would you hate it?/Or would you even know they offed me?” The band then launches into one of its huge hooks — something that looks so easy to the talented group at this stage of their career — as Skipper finishes up the chorus with “If I go out then so it be/You know I’m going out my way.” In the bridge, they assume complete control over the listener, elevating the track to a mission statement of sorts for the album, even revealing the line which gave the album its title. And the finishing segment, which has Skipper singing, “Because you’ll never find out till your bodies been broken on the canvas/If you belong with the ghosts of the has beens/Or if you live on like a little piece of greatness,” firmly establishes the urgency present throughout the record.
“Dance (Blow It All Away)” picks up on that note, coming off as a radio-ready anthem of sorts. And while not one of their stronger tracks in terms of lyrics, the song does accomplish what it sets out to do, presenting an undeniable hook along with a breakneck pace verse. Besides, the band has plenty of tracks where they show off lyrically, including the outstanding ballad, “The Cop.” Telling the story of a police officer in love, the band doesn’t settle for the typical tale, instead delving into the psyche of our narrator. Skipper sings in the chorus, “Til you’ve been in the dark you might never feel it/Til you’ve been in the dark you might think you’re guaranteed/But your life can leave, with a spark.”
In “Comfort Trap,” the guys get back to the primary theme, this time injecting it with a little does of anger. The chorus is yet another memorable one, as Skipper howls, “I’m gonna get nice things and get my way/Even if it means there’s hell to pay/I’m gonna have my cake and eat it too/And what I don’t eat I’m gonna force feed you.” And of course, the band does touch on its spiritual side, most notably in the lines, “I paid my dues and earned my doubt/It’d be God’s mistake to spit me out.” Speaking of their religious influence, it’s certainly noticeable for those who are looking. But don’t shy away because of a stigma you feel toward the genre. The songs stand on their own, no matter your beliefs.
“Touch This Light” begins a string of pop-centered tracks late in the album, all of which should help to increase the group’s fan base. “Angels Of Night” reminds one of Dashboard Confessional’s later work, while “Stay” has a hook reminiscent of Fall Out Boy. Therein lies the main issue with the album, though, as it doesn’t have that typical creativity and layering we expect from the longtime standouts. Instead, they go a more conventional route, which again could help them in the long run. It just may not lead to “Cold Hard Want” being the favorite for the fans who have been with them the longest.
The band seems to realize that downfall, though, as the album does close out on a better note with “I Am A Symbol.” The finale is straight House Of Heroes, slowly building to an epic conclusion, while employing a variety of vocal filters. Skipper combines with other members, AJ Babcock (main lyricist, bass), Eric Newcomer (guitar) and Colin Rigsby (drums) to deliver a passionate ending, promising to remain themselves even when chasing after that notoriety they often touch on.
“I will sing for hope
I will sing for life
When I’m gone the flame keeps burning
I’ll keep burning on”
Sound Quality: Before starting, it’s important to note that the record I received did experience some slight warping from the heat. Fortunately, the sound quality was still quite impressive. The superb pressing was on full display in “The Cop,” in which Skipper’s vocals are taken up yet another level. On “Comfort Trap,” the bass drum nearly knocked me over, only being topped by the explosive chorus, which came in crystal clear. Another highlight sits with “Touch This Light,” as the electronic beat takes on a life of its own. It’s not a record you’ll be afraid to turn the volume up on, trust me. The records are cut at 45 RPM.
Packaging: It’s always a shame when a double LP isn’t accompanied by gatefold packaging, which is unfortunately the case here. The package was already priced at $20, so why not just go the extra mile? The lyric insert is a nice addition, with a really nice design on the flip side. But again, all I could think about was just how good that design would have looked as part of a gatefold. Your 12″ black vinyl (limited to 500) comes in standard white dust sleeves.
Extras: The package includes a CD, which of course can easily be turned into a digital version. The bonus disc helped to make up for the packaging deficiencies.
Summary: With “Cold Hard Want,” House Of Heroes has created the most accessible record of their career, even though it may not be as charmingly complex as prior material. Longtime fans may yearn for those multi-stage anthems the band has perfected over the years, but general fans of rock music shouldn’t be able to deny the talent at hand. The sound quality stands as the best aspect of the release, but packaging by Gotee Records could certainly be improved.
Make Sure To Spin: “The Cop,” “Out My Way” and “Comfort Trap”
You can still pick up “Cold Hard Want” over at Gotee Records.