Review Summary: Come listen to the ballad of a brocore band that doesn’t have (or necessarily need) bros.
One of the most noteworthy and personally enjoyable features to ever appear on this site, to me, is not one of the multitudes of interviews, stands above the Kanye backlash, and even ousts the treatise on copyright law; it is Chan’s tongue-in-cheek “Brocore: An Introspective.” See, growing up in a distant suburb of New York City, you experience all the aspects of bro culture, and this article nailed them hard. From the dinosaur tees to the drunken chants of WE ARE FAMILY, it’s eternally around you, and keeps coming back like some sort of weird talking ooze. Even worse, every corner of the planet vomits up its own brand of “brocore” for the boys in the 'insert cul-de-sac name here' Hood (for me, it was always good old Briarcliff) to lap up, most of it being complete drek. Still, that doesn’t condemn all contemporary hardcore to this purgatory, as Have Heart prove with Songs to Scream at the Sun.
While not exactly the pinnacle of the genre by a long shot (since it does suffer from the same pitfalls its classmates share,) Songs to Scream…
reminds a jaded youth that there exists a paradoxical style of “brocore without bros,” something we senile coots call hardcore.
As the guitars blast their opening riff to “The Same Son” and Pat Flynn cries, “When I look into the mirror I see a boy, not a man,” the listeners key into one thing: they’re hitting a wall of sound that probably won’t let up for the next twenty minutes. While it’s certainly possible for the album to melt one’s face off under the right conditions, Have Heart’s true power isn’t necessarily meant to lie within the sound alone; hence, many songs sound a little subdued. Lyrics such as the churning cries of “some families stand like November trees: barren and stark” ring out in agonized fury, punching into the hearts of listeners as jaded as me. Many moments arise where the typical group shouts come into play, unavoidably so, but to say they never fit would be a bold lie. What better way exists to deal with confusion, anger, frustration, fear, and dejection?
Such harshness and emotional sway clashes with how drab the music is in comparison. Songs bleed together in a well of monotony, from the drone of the chugging guitars to some fills and movements you could see coming from a mile down the line. Everything is very conventional and safe instrumentally, considering its heavy style. As I crested the middle of the album, right as "No Roses, No Skies" was winding down, I found myself thinking, exasperated, "okay it's hardcore, I get it." The only musical aspect not immediately predictable is the drumming, the highlight on an otherwise unsurprising soundscape. Dynamic fills that sporadically appear on songs like “Hard Bark on the Family Tree” keep coming in to save a few tracks from complete mediocrity-induced boredom (Brotherly Love,) while others go from being just “pretty good” to “great” (The Same Sun) based on that factor alone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying Shawn Costa is the ultimate savior for the album and the rest of the band are teetering on ape-slaying incompetence, but he adds enough flair to be noticed, something only he seems to bring out of the six-man crew. It’s one of the unfortunate kicks to the stomach this album takes, since those bits of flair carry with them separation from the pack.
So where does Have Heart's sophomore full-length land after it's all said and done? Does it take its throne among the hardcore greats, showing those silly brocore bands what it's like in the old school? Or does it peer out from the bottom of the barrel, snarling at passersby and stealing scraps from Casey Jones? Neither, actually. It twiddles its mighty pick-wielding thumbs in purgatory along with countless other hardcore acts, forever seething with rye emotion but never making enough of a soundscape to let it out right. And that is the most glaring flaw Songs to Scream at the Sun
carries: it has the power and the poetry, but not an identity.