Review Summary: Performing responsibly and conscientiously to look back upon proudly.
When discussing commercially neglected Ohio rockers House of Heroes, conversation will usually turn to one of two subjects: (1) Their Christianity, or (2) the degree of excellence to which their album ‘The End Is Not The End’ attained. In the case of both topics, however, any such debate would do a disservice to the quartet’s decade long existence. Effectively utilizing spiritual themes to further their intriguing lyrics, the Tim Skipper led outfit have produced a superlative and under-rated discography, with the margin between their best and worst work being negligible. Furthermore, ignoring the practical re-release of their self-titled LP as ‘Say No More’, House of Heroes have refused to stagnate, continuously adding attributes to their brand of rock; which contains the catchy hooks from pop-punk, the huge melodic riffs of hard-rock, the vocal harmonies from pop-rock, and even a hint of the progressive with quirky rhythms & tempo changes.
In relative terms, House of Heroes tone down their conceptual ambition on new LP 'Cold Hard Want'. There is no all-controlling narrative pertaining to World Wars or suburban life akin to their previous two full-length releases, although the opening duo does set up a general theme of living responsibly and conscientiously to die proudly. This allows the band some room to maneuver regarding mood, with 'Cold Hard Want' integrating the darker, often serious nature of 'The End Is Not The End' with the playful theatricality of 'Suburba'. For the most part, this works for the best, although tunes such as the cheesy 'Angels of Night' and the intriguing oddity of a character study that is 'The Cop', do feel a little forced and disturb cohesion.
Musically speaking, the modifications to the quartet's signature sound is likely to be in the ear of the listener, with 'Cold Hard Want' making a case to be assessed as either House of Heroes' heaviest, most straight-forward or sonically varied LP of their career. Lead single 'Touch This Light' and 'Dance (Blow It All Away)' are the driving up-tempo rockers that bring quality hooks, 'We Were Giants' and epic closer 'I Am a Symbol' the sing-along ballads, while 'Remember The Empire' and 'Comfort Trap' satisfyingly showcase the band's tempo-switching dynamics. Elsewhere, House of Heroes have that knack of injecting crunchy riffs, soaring guitar theatrics, sturdy rhythms, vocal harmonies or gang chants exactly when they are required, to give what may initially seem like generic tracks a likable nature and moderate growth value.
While there is a slight downgrade to the lyrics which have previously separated House of Heroes from the christian-rock pack, there are still many treasures to be found. The aforementioned general theme is set up by 'Out My Way' proclaiming "You'll never find out 'til your bodies been broken on the canvas, if you belong with the ghosts and the has-beens or if you live on like a little piece of greatness". Frustrations within their faith makes 'Comfort Trap' stand out most, beginning with "A house and a wife and two & a half, I lost my dream in the comfort trap. I told my God his will could wait, I've got one foot in a rich man's grave", before stating "I paid my dues and earned my doubt, it'd be God's mistake to spit me out". Just as tellingly, Tim Skipper's convincing vocals have improved to the point that not only can he handle the gritty just as adeptly as the poppy, but he has greater awareness of when to flick each switch on and off... Although, his Matt Bellamy like falsetto on the quirky, electronically flourished 'Suspect' is a little dubious.
Naturally, comparisons and rankings will still be made as to where 'Cold Hard Want' fits into the catalog of House of Heroes releases. Maybe more significant is the fact that it does indeed fit in nicely, since it feels like both a natural evolution for the band, as well as a summation of their career to date. In a sense, it somewhat mirrors the "living responsibly and conscientiously to die proudly" motif in that House of Heroes perform this album with such a passion, craft and proficiency, that no matter which direction they head next, this talented outfit will be able to look back upon 'Cold Hard Want' with nothing but pride.
Recommended Tracks: Touch This Light, Remember The Empire, Comfort Trap & Dance (Blow It All Away).