With concept albums, it makes sense to consider their storytelling and thematics the make-or-break elements of their makeup. Sometimes that idea can deter listeners from the actual content of the album — specifically, the individual songs themselves. I’ve seen bands who play so hard into a concept that they fail to make the music as intriguing as the driving force behind it. I’ve also seen bands who hype up concept albums so much that their through-the-roof expectations are extremely difficult to meet, and it’s hard to salvage such efforts from being letdowns if the story is in any bit lacking. House of Heroes’ Colors fits the latter, but it’s in no way a letdown. In fact, the alternative rockers are so good at showcasing their songwriting talents and knack for sing-alongs that the few thematic flaws in their fifth record can be overlooked.
If you’ve never heard of them before, House of Heroes is one of the best-kept secrets in rock music, and has been for nearly a decade now. Much of this comes from their full-lengths The End Is Not the End and Suburba, which play around with loose concepts to great success. The themes of World War II and suburban adolescence, along with the astounding substance packed into the 45+ minute run times of each, hooked many listeners. Perhaps it’s what made the idea of a full-on concept album so alluring for their fifth record. But, unfortunately, it set the bar unreasonably high, especially after the quartet exceeded their Indiegogo goal by over $20,000.
If anyone could hit this bar, it’s House of Heroes, and — though it’s been four years since their last full-length — they do so to an extent. Colors is practically a young adult novel in audio format, telling the story of Eric, his girlfriend Joni, and his cousin Axel. As the action rises, it becomes apparent that Axel has committed a crime, and, as both a witness and family member, Eric must keep quiet. However, as the record progresses, it’s Axel’s paranoia and jealousy that results in tragedy. Axel shoots Eric, then gets caught and goes to jail at the end. It’s intense stuff, and the band crafted some of their darkest, heaviest material to date in order match it.
The story itself is intriguing, but the execution is spotty at times. It’s often hard to determine who’s narrating each song, as the band switches around quite often, and this interrupts the album’s consistency. The setting is set with “This City Is a Cage”, before “Colors Run” hits the ground running with its booming choral elements and core story pieces. The group centers a lot of the concept around this song, adding a whistled reprise to both its end and the end of succeeding track “Pioneer”. To breathe some depth into a fairly middling story, they throw some philosophical elements into the mix, identifying “colors” as predetermination and “stars” as free will in regard to fate. This is discussed heavily in “We Make Our Stars”, a mid-tempo ballad. Settling itself between the disc’s most in-your-face cuts (“Rat” and “Feel”), the vocal dynamics in these three tracks showcase singer Tim Skipper’s versatility in full. In “Stars”, he simmers in front of rising guitar strums and cymbal crashes, then turns wicked in “Feel” as the instrumentation bounces around him.
“God” is the album’s most interesting song from a structural standpoint, as it’s a slow-burner absent of a chorus. Yet, it’s one of Colors’ biggest highlights due to its low-toned riffs and Skipper’s vocal rage, both of which grow more restless as the track unravels. Apart from “Matador”, the record’s climax, the second half doesn’t match the intensity of the first — and it doesn’t try to. The campfire feel of “In the End” and “Shots Fired” remind of Skipper’s acoustic side project, Copperlily, and “Crash” adds some female vocals to the band’s already dense musical palette. Such earthy aspects excellently contrast the first half’s sky-high vibe. Though these songs don’t contain the same replay value of the more anthemic sing-alongs, they provide some vivid cinematic qualities — most notably the keyboard-infused credits track “Colors Die Out”.
House of Heroes’ first stab at a complete concept album is unsurprisingly impressive, even if it isn’t flawless as far as storytelling goes. It’s rare to find a concept record with so many standout tracks, and Colors is chock full of them. A more intense effort than fans are used to from the Ohio rockers, the concept’s tragedy and philosophical ruminations reflect a lot of real-world experiences. They use everyday characters to answer general questions, all in a larger-than-life way: Who hasn’t been in love? Who hasn’t experienced tragedy? Who hasn’t felt at the center of the world? Who hasn’t felt helpless? At the same time, the band makes sure to infuse their matured storytelling with scraps of their past releases. The rock and pop-punk leanings are still ever-present, and the Beatles influence is evident as always. No, Colors isn’t Sgt. Pepper, but it’s still worth the investment.
Alternative Rock | BadChristian Music