House of Heroes
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2005 1 Apr
- Fast Enough
- Friday Night
- Mercedes Baby
- Serial Sleepers + The Un-tempered Light
- Make a Face Like You Mean It
- Pulling Back the Skin
- The Bois D'art Circus
- Suicide Baby
- Angels in Top Hats…
It's almost pointless in mentioning that this power trio from Columbus, Ohio was originally named No Tagbacks, because they've progressed their style so dramatically in such a short time. The then teenage punk pop band seemed to be set for a path to stardom, until problems with their record label and a desire to change styles forced them to start from scratch and rechristen themselves House of Heroes. Their independent debut
That intermission gave House of Heroes enough time to work on perfecting their self-titled national debut with producer Oran Thornton (Bleach, Johnny Q. Public). It was clearly time well spent. What's refreshing about this band is their commitment to creatively expressing their faith through art, shunning trends and requisites for radio in favor of developing their own sound…and doing it extremely well.
This is one tight power trio. Considering guitarist Tim Skipper's high-pitched rock tenor and Colin Rigsby's aggressive-yet-precise drumming, House of Heroes might best be described as Jimmy Eat World meets Rush, with a hint of Radiohead thrown in for good measure. All three members harmonize impressively while delivering challenging riffs over a solid rhythm section. It's moody, it's often catchy, and it rocks.
Additionally impressive are the songs themselves. Bassist A.J. Babcock serves as the band's primary lyricist, and they've worked up an album with honest themes of brokenness, frustrations, and healing. This can prove a challenge, as many indie rock bands end up with overly ambiguous lyrics that don't clearly express any message. The flip side to that are bands that are so forthright in their message, the lyrics end up sounding insipid and trite.
House of Heroes strikes a fine balance here with songs that are often abstract, yet sprinkled with spiritual themes waiting to be found. "Buckets" outlines many of life's problems and inequities, ultimately advising listeners to "find a place to put their hope in" and live without fear. "Mercedes Baby" sounds like a lost Relient K or Jimmy Eat World tune, warning against focusing on the temporary trappings of this world. There are also struggles with addictions ("Fast Enough") and jealousy (the reflective and dramatic "Pulling Back the Skin"). The band especially nails it in "Friday Night," candidly coping with loneliness while resisting temptation and wrestling with pride: "I see the light, but the dark is so accommodating."
More overtly spiritual are "Serial Sleepers + The Un-tempered Light," offering the same ambient art rock as Lovedrug and Cool Hand Luke while finding renewal in the Lord: "Rise up, O Sons of God, and sing the song that hides behind your teeth … save our souls from all our dreams come true." Closing the disc is the album highlight "Angels in Top Hats," a nine-minute Jeff Buckley-styled alternative rock epic that uses a coma as a metaphor for spiritual reawakening. The lyrics make indirect reference to Christ's blood in a way that's not readily obvious from simply listening to it. The reference is intentional, however, even if the song is open to wide interpretation.
House of Heroes address their troubled artistic progression in "Make a Face Like You Mean It," a telling track that decries the lack of passion and creativity in the music business, likening it to soulless vampires in search of blood. Thank God this band has persevered and been allowed to create the album they wanted to make through Gotee. While they may not sound a lot like Switchfoot, they are one of the best things to happen to Christian rock since that band's ascension to widespread success. It won't appeal to everyone, but House of Heroes is in fact a heroic rock effort that stacks up against similar styled offerings outside the Christian music scene.