If you read my review of Hit the Lights’ EP Invicta, you know they released it with the purpose of stirring the pot for their eagerly awaited full-length of the same name. Invicta’s 11 tracks emit vibes of a band seeking arenas, stadiums and dizzying heights, ripe with colossal melodies, stomping drums and notably improved vocals. Improving on the strong points of the EP, while not really straying away from its faults, Invicta is a sure sign of maturity and motivation for bigger things from the Ohio-based pop-rock quintet.
Without making this a complete rehash of what has been said about the EP, the full-length is very much a continuation and proper representation of what this band has become since the days of Skip School, Start Fights – a record punctuated by post-teenage angst that is slathered in crisp, yet fun guitar lines. This time around, melody and structure seem to be the focus of Hit the Lights’ artillery, harnessing clean guitars and simpler drumming in an effort to build something bigger. Album opener “Invincible” stomps its way through melodically simple verses to open the album, clearing a path for vocalist Nick Thompson and a huge chorus to steal the spotlight before segueing back to the off-kilter stomp and snap drum beat. “So Guilty” follows a similar build, as a simple tom beat kicks off the track in a rather uninteresting fashion, only to add Thompson’s smooth vocals and light, clean guitars to the mix.
The gentle palm-mutes of “Get to You” morph into an unbelievably sweet melody for this smooth pop-rock number, shifting between fits of fragile, yet bright melodies and monumental choruses anchored by Thompson’s massive vocal lines. The bridge, lined with upbeat guitar lines and a pulsing drum attack, sets the stage for “Float Through Me” – a track most reminiscent of Skip School alongside “Gravity.” Tinged with crunching guitars and a bombastic intro, the uncharacteristic use of distorted guitars adds to the pleasant surprise of a return to up-tempo backbeats and driving melodies. The excitement is nearly wasted though, as the following track “Should’ve Known” seems a bit misplaced with downplayed percussion and whirring melodic fits, making for a bit of a down moment in the record. The energy returns later though, as “Take Control” combines catchy guitar licks and a slightly quirky drum bit to restore a wandering brightness to the near-end of the album. When the second verse kicks things into high gear, it becomes clear the band hasn’t forgotten where they came from, as they inject more of the upbeat guitars into the mix – all before a colossal bridge gives the track a memorable apex.
The lows here are things that could have honestly been avoided. Ending your album with a stereotypical ballad-like closer in “Oh My God” is predictable beyond means, let alone the fact that it aimlessly floats like something lost in space due to overly drawn out melodies and beyond slow-motion drumming that take entirely too long to evolve into anything interesting. It truly ends a solid record on a completely disappointing note. It should also be noted that much of the album seems very similar aurally, giving the ambition to take the band’s sound to bigger, perhaps more accessible heights a bit of a sour edge. Still, it is easy to see this band has grown up quite a bit in these tracks, leaving behind some of the angst in favor of something a bit more positive and honest.
Invicta’s initial impression is one of wonder and discovery, but after a few listens it is clear that Hit the Lights knew very well what they were doing in the creation of this record. Whether it propels them to new heights will have to be seen, but the band has written something that will appeal to the masses in what could end up being seen by many as the band’s finest hour. It is simple enough to say this – Hit the Lights is back in a big way.