Review Summary: See that guy on the album cover holding up a sign? That's kind of what this album feels like.The End Is Not The End
is that rarest of things: a pop-rock album which cares, beyond publicity, how it presents itself. Where many of the genre's less ambitious records come plastered in glossy promo shots of the band being melodramatic or melodramatically blasé, House Of Heroes' 2008 LP chooses sepia tones and a moniker which sets its content on a pedestal. Part of this probably has to do with the band's Christian background; they'll tell you (like every Christian band) that they're not like every Christian band. In fairness, they're not as obsessed with Him
as others have proven to be, but it's still fairly prominent in their fabric, and the Christian press love them. But from the artwork to the sub-one-minute Intro track, the band want you to know that there's a point to this music beyond the usual hooks and pumping guitars that their genre is famed for. House Of Heroes are trying to tell you something.
But as your English teacher undoubtedly once proclaimed, there is an absolutely golden rule of communicative art: show, don't tell.
See, The End Is Not The End
is built up as a concept record, as an epic, sprawling work with a lot to say. It points at its own eclectic nature with great frequency; the vocals range from energetic to solemnly gentle, while the tempos rocket and plunge with great deliberation, and the rhythms are quirky ('If') or straight-up-rock ('Lose Control'). But much as the tricks are plentiful, they're still tricks; there's no genuine artistic impulse, just the calculated use of a plethora of cool ideas that could have been lifted from anywhere else in rock music. That's not to say that The End Is Not The End
ever becomes predictable, because in truth it's an exciting listen with many sharp twists and turns over the course of its 60 minutes, but it's like a breakneck car ride through city-centre sidestreets that seem to repeat themselves every now and again, even if not being obviously identical.
Still, a breakneck ride it is - with plenty of great moments along the way. The band's performance tremors somewhere between adequate and excellent, as they switch up guitar techniques and rhythms in order to keep songs fresh and interesting. House Of Heroes' melody crafting is arguably their forte, finding delicate hooks in almost every song which, despite being fairly generic, occur in the right contexts time and time again. Vocalist Tim Skipper is handed most of these melodies to work with, and the results are by and large impressive.
Despite all these positives, though, The End Is Not The End
is an album which struggles to find any cohesion or large-scale brilliance in its entirety. It would be unfair to call it a confused
record, but it often feels patchy, and certainly lacks real cohesion in any care. The music is not quite schizophrenic enough to be a constant rollercoaster, nor groundbreaking enough to be experimental, but it refuses to sit still in a slightly uncomfortable way; take 'In The Valley Of The Dying Son', for example, a stellar song which unnecessarily morphs a couple too many times just to add shallow value. Lyrically, it's difficult to pin down, and the 'concept' is immensely shaky; one could certainly be forgiven for thinking that the first four real tracks were standard cuts from an album with no consistent themes except that most common - love.
Moreover, the climaxes are equally evasive, and not in a tension-building way. It's not so much that they're dampened by the production, which is mostly good; it's just that with every line that passes, House Of Heroes seem to be pointing to an imprecise future moment where the music will fully resolve and you'll be fully satisfied. But it never comes. There are gorgeous cuts and fist-punching anthems and vaguely intriguing lyrical asides but not once in a full hour of music does anything ever collide in a way which makes the enjoyment factor 100%; forget songs, not for one single second are you fully allowed to release all your listener's tension. Imagine all your favourite pop-rock songs with every chorus modified in a way which slightly spoils the emotional impact.
What you're left with is a series of carefully orchestrated explosions which give more of an impression of a controlled demolition than anything instinctively sublime or transcendent. There is gripping music here, and it's very, very hard to pick a single moment in the record which could ever be described as 'bad', except for the vocal sample in 'Voices' where a preacher tells you off for not believing God's Divine Word. But it all feels a little bit too much like House Of Heroes are making eyes at their own music, purposely pulling strings on your emotions and reactions to achieve a response which looks like the one they would like to evoke but doesn't have anywhere near the same end effect. The guitars fly, the drums beat and the words swirl in all their universal majesty, but the lasting impression is deceptive and nowhere nearly as deep as it's hyped up to be.