Review Summary: Project 86 follows up their best album with their disappointing worst album. While decent, Truthless Heroes is fairly boring, generic and lacking in consistently great music.2 of 4 thought this review was well written
Mainstream success is certainly a divisive issue among music fans, looked upon with its several cons and pros. For some (mainly the band themselves), it's certainly a nice thing to get the exposure and critical acclaim they (might or might not) deserve. All those years of playing small bars and touring in a Volkswagen van finally pay off with national tours, massive airplay and thousands, if not millions of album sales.
Then, of course, there's the problems with this wide exposure and/or success. That once small but devoted fanbase may cry 'sellout!' after the latest album has been released (even if no real change in sound has occurred). While there's certainly cases when those people would be correct (They're Only Chasing Safety
, anyone?), there's probably a good percentage of cases where all that changes is the amount of people buying said band's records.
Before Truthless Heroes
, the hard rock/post hardcore outfit Project 86 were no strangers to fairly big success. Their last album, Drawing Black Lines
, sold a surprising 100,000 copies before they would go in to record the follow up, and drew the attention of Atlantic Records (who would re-release it in conjunction with the then smaller Tooth and Nail Records). After leaving Tooth and Nail behind, they recorded Truthless Heroes
and frontman Andrew Schwab would recall both the recording process and following tour as a terrible period in their career. In his book It's All Downhill From Here
, he writes "I remember storming out of the vocal booth after being told to sing, sing, sing, when all I wanted to do was scream, scream, scream...The whole time we were being told to move away from what made our previous effort so successful."
What might be the saddest thing about the album is that, while possibly being the band's "most artistic" effort (in that it's a concept album), the musical aspect is quite underwhelming. Truthless Heroes
feels like a complete 180 degree turn from what made the band great before: instead of another heavy, pissed off and consistently great album, we get a weak, generic and boring effort.
While there are several things wrong with it, the album does have enough positives to elevate it from 'poor' to 'average' or 'decent' quality. The production, which was lacking a little on their previous album, is now quite good - probably due to the new major label backing. Every second of the music is clear and crisp, allowing guitarist Randy Torres and lead vocalist Schwab's voices to shine (especially Schwab's, which has improved signifantly from their last album). While not consistently great, it also contains some songs good enough to be 'Project 86 classics", namely "Little Green Men", "S.M.C" and "Hollow Again".
While on the whole, Truthless Heroes
is quite lyrically weak, there are some interesting lines here and there, such as:
"If tricycles came with guns, we'd all be safe"
"I don't even like the taste of blood
But it's all they had for sale today"
The concept is certainly handled quite well. Each song follows the story of an unnamed boy, who grows up in modern society and comes to realize "forever [the world] will be Hollow Again". Along the way, he learns the corruption and fruitlessness to be found in so many things, and the Schwab gives commentary on the media ("Little Green Men"), commonly held heroes ("Your Heroes Are Dead"), drug addiction ("Shelter Me Mercury") and even the church itself ("S.M.C.", somewhat surprising when the band is Christian themselves).
Sadly, that's where most of the positives end. Truthless Heroes
feels quite dumbed down both musically and lyrically compared to everything else in the band's catalogue, in a way making it the "Black Album" of their career. The music as a whole sounds like about a dozen hard rock bands that were popular at the time, stripping away the post-hardcore tendencies of before and replacing it with simple song structures.
The vocals, although clearer, are at times a downside of several songs. Guitarist Randy Torres, while having a better singing voice than Schwab, possessed none of the passionate fury that the frontman does. What's more, there's no vocal harmonization to be found. What makes some of the best moments in their discography is Torres singing along with Schwab's throaty screams, and even when the two sing at the same time here, it's never in an effort to harmonize. While certainly not bad, the vocals are quite underwhelming throughout most of this album's running time.
Even the instrumentation is lacking a bit. Elsewhere, Torres is a pretty good guitarist, creating plenty of great riffs and even when they're completely simple (see "Stein's Theme"), the riffs work quite well. Here, too many songs feel dull, not only in quality but guitar-wise as well. The other two members can't do much to help this - the bass is pretty much nonexistent during for pretty much 95% of the album, and about the only time it is heard (a bass "solo" in "Last Meal"), it ruins the momentum that the bridge had been building up previously. Alex Albert is a good drummer, but like a bassist he's not really able to improve the quality of the songs (by himself).
Then of course there's the interludes, meant to be "commercials" on the "show" of Truthless Heroes
. They're meant to help the concept and, at times, help the album's flow, but in the end each one (sans "...To Help You Sleep") is about as useful as the skits on a hip-hop album.
While Project 86's third studio effort isn't horrible, it's pretty weak, and not just in comparison with everything everything the band has done. Forget all the other problems with this, what might be the biggest weakness is that so much could be done by another band and the word's "Project 86" would never come to mind. The useless skits and lack of strong tracks make Truthless Heroes
worthy of the disappointing reputation it has among so many fans, as well as the somewhat weak success it received upon release. Thank goodness it was only a temporary misstep.
Little Green Men
Shelter Me Mercury