Review Summary: You can be safe or you can be free.
House of Heroes are a band that, despite the critical acclaim their albums receive, have always flown under most people's radar. The Ohio-based rock band have been making music since 1998 (originally as No Tagbacks, albeit with a more punk-oriented sound), undergoing numerous lineup changes. After dabbling with concepts on their 2008 release, The End Is Not The End, and Suburba in 2010, House of Heroes have released their first full-fledged concept album, Colors.
Colors is a concept record based on the fictional story of three characters: Eric, his cousin Axel, and Joni, the shared love interest. The band uses the music to follow the story, with song's dips and peaks representing the highs and lows of the plot.
What this results in is an album so interesting and dynamic that the music being played tells just as much of a story as the lyrics do. Whether the band is firing on all cylinders on hard-rockers such as 'Matador' and 'Pioneer,' or slowing things down on tracks like 'In The End' and 'Get Away,' the performances are creative and memorable. House of Heroes have never sounded better. Stylistically, House of Heroes have always sounded like a mix between the quirky and bombastic nature of bands such as Weezer and Ludo, with the energy and grace of Cities-era Anberlin. That's not to say they're a copy-cat band, because there are plenty of elements at play by the group to carve out their own sound.
Groovy bass lines coupled with slick, quirky guitar riffs, energetic drums, and even the occasional use of organ, provide the backbone for the album. Add Tim Skipper's incredibly diverse and powerful vocals on top and you've got a truly complete musical package. Lyrically, the album is more philosophical and contemplative than the band's previous efforts, due to the tragic nature of the story.
One major theme the album deals with is the concept of believing in free will versus the belief that your fate is predetermined. This idea is reinforced in the chorus of 'Pioneer,' in which Axel proclaims, "you can be safe or you can be free." Another theme tackled on the album is religion, notably in career highlight, 'God,' a track which has Axel questioning his faith and contemplating the existence of a God he so eagerly believed in previously.
Whispered verses coupled with brooding guitars and pounding drums gradually buildup throughout the song until it finally explodes into a truly intense climax, with Skipper shouting to himself "what's in it for me"" It's intense.
A similar use of dynamic control is also used very effectively on tracks such as 'Crash' and 'Matador.' A few songs share a particular melody, first heard in the chorus of 'Colors Run,' which is used as a leitmotif to give the album a more cohesive feel.
In the past, House of Heroes made great use of theatrics and huge, soaring choruses to instantly draw the listener in. That's not to say those elements aren't present here, they're just used more sparingly. Instead, the band opt for a more subtle and gradual approach to their songwriting, allowing songs to build up organically and complement each other. This can be seen as a negative since some tracks will lack the impact when listened to isolated from the album. It does go a long way, however, in making the album a much more rewarding listen than its predecessors, even if its also a much less immediate one. With House of Heroes expanding their sound further in every direction, they have created the most mature album of their career, and one of the finest rock albums of 2016.