Review Summary: The Bigger Lights leave behind their label, but bring one of the largest improvements of any band yet in 2011, as Battle Hymn removes most of the negatives from the band's self-titled album to release easily their strongest material.
For once, artistic integrity has prevaled over living the easy life. Rather than continuing to work with Doghouse Records for the follow up to their eponymously named debut full length, The Bigger Lights decided to self produce and self release their brand new LP Battle Hymn. Though The Bigger Lights had some catchy moments, the lyrical and musical content was generally poor, and the album seemed to cater to the high school aged female, a crowd that could easily spring The Bigger Lights to superstardom. But although the band's DIY attitude with Battle Hymn may be a financial burden to the band, The Bigger Lights have easily released their strongest material to date.
While song titles aren't often predictive of the actual quality of music, they still give somewhat of a first impression. The self titled album featured many cliche or cringe worthy track titles such as "Hey Summer", "What About Us", "Skinny Jeans", "So Crazy", and "Somewhere Out There", while Battle Hymn is highlighted by "Living Martyrdom", "Never Mistake A Suit For A Friend", and "Halo, I'm Not Coming Home". The drastic difference between the focus of the titles immediately slam down any beliefs that The Bigger Lights were continuing down the same road of the self titled record, and indicate a more sophisticated theme.
And indeed there is one. The Bigger Lights smothered listeners with topics such as wanting a girl, missing the girl, loving the girl, summer, and simply, the girl. Battle Hymn focuses on a much more serious and profound issue, as The Bigger Lights write about betrayal and dissatisfaction with society. However, instead of doting over these issues, the band prefers to fight back and change things for the better. "Bullet Believers (Ra Ra Ra)" suggests that the societal misfits need to be respected, and should fight to receive such respect. The driving guitar and menacing bass line showcase a punkier side to The Bigger Lights, while the guitar solo and gang vocals also deliver the knockout punch to anyone expecting a rehash of the band's former material.
"Send Me A Miracle" also shows signs of the band breaking out of their tweeny pop style. Def Leppard influences can be heard throughout the song, as well as powerful lyrical content in which lead singer Topher Talle swears that he's "Fed up with the weight of the world cause it’s holding me down / Got to make a difference, got to make a change, got to be bold to be proud / I’ve got one life to live and so much to say / I won’t create a revolution just to throw it all away." From a band who sung about "Jessie" and "Skinny Jeans" in the past, the growth in the wordsmanship is incredible, raising the band to one of the strongest lyrical powers in the genre.
But don't think that The Bigger Lights recreated themselves entirely, as their ability to craft a strong hook still remains throughout every track. The biggest difference is the fact that the songs actually have some substance to them, giving the entire album a repeatability factor. Opener "Terrible World, Give Me More" feels similar to older track "Goldmine Valentine", but the song still feels like an entirely new track. "Dear In The Headlights" goes back to singing about love, but it doesn't feel contrived and stale unlike similar songs in the past. The addition of strings and keys also creates one of the most sophisticated arrangements heard in a Bigger Lights song, a welcome addition to the simplistic sounds usually played.
However, closer "Halo, I'm Not Coming Home" raises the band's improvements to even another level. Plenty of strings create an orchestral feel, while guitarist John Kendall Royston shreds more in his solo than he's ever done before. Talley's vocals are also at his strongest, while not one, but two key changes in the final chorus, a maneuver that is much more difficult to write into a song than is expected. Placing even one in a song is tough, but The Bigger Lights took the risk of a second one. The band also went with a controversial lyrical topic for "Halo", as the band sings about being deceived and abandoned by religion. But these risks paid off in a huge way, as "Halo" is the band's best song to date by a large margin.
As Battle Hymn was announced a week before the release date, it came out of nowhere to most people. That fits the album perfectly, as the reception to Battle Hymn will surprise everyone. The Bigger Lights have grown as a band at a level rarely seen in the music industry, and the band will receive plenty of newfound respect not just for their musical growth, but for the personal risks they took in the creation of the album. This album could easily have been a bomb, as self-producing and self-releasing an album is one of the toughest things for any band to do. But it speaks to the member's character and passion for their art that Battle Hymn has turned out to be one of the stronger pop-rock releases of 2011.