Release Date: July 10, 2012
Reviewed by Megan Missler
In mid-December, House of Heroes assembled at The Smoakstack in Nashville, TN with producer Paul Moak for approximately two weeks to record thirteen tracks. Fans have been waiting in eager anticipation for these Ohio natives to release their fifth full-length album, Cold Hard Want. If you have never heard of House of Heroes, well now is the perfect time to find out what all the excitement is about! Colin Rigsby lays down the beats on drums, while AJ Babcock keeps the groove going on bass. Eric Newcomer screams out on lead guitar while Tim Skipper slips in plenty of riffs on guitar. Skipper also adds tonal diversity to the band as the talented lead vocalist. The rest of the guys craft background harmonies in perfect tune as well.
Cold Hard Want opens with waves crashing on the shore and a cappella harmonies reminiscent of Queen in an introduction titled “A Man Who’s Not Afraid.” The intense calm of the intro gives way to attitude in the sauntering guitar for “Out My Way.” After climbing a couple riffs, the rest of the band falls into place. Rigsby & Babcock keep the steady beat as the song slowly marches thru questions about trust, inspiration, originality, and influence. These prove rhetorical as Skipper’s raw vocals shout through the chorus to bring on the critics. The second verse in a sense answers the questions from verse one. The experiences themselves are the answer. The bridge builds with such passionate emotion that the sound is distorted, but it only adds to the recording. The album’s name is found here, ‘It took a whole lot of blood and sweat…a whole lot of cold hard want…a whole lot of nights like these to get what I got.’ This song is about choices and their consequences, good or bad. In a sense, so is every song on this album.
Dance (Blow It All Away) is pure House of Heroes fun, showcasing both Skipper’s vocals and Newcomer’s guitar skills. It’s a nice break from the heavy lyrics of “Out My Way” and ramps up to hard-driving, classic rock inspired “Remember the Empire.” Rigsby works hard on the percussion. When the bridge gets crazy awesome wonderful, I start to wonder, “How on earth do I describe this?” Suddenly everything drops out but this delicate guitar line. Skipper’s vocals are so gentle for two lines, it breaks your heart. Then the beauty is shredded by one more rockfist-lifting chorus. (Yes, “rockfist-lifting” is a word. I just made it up.)
“We Were Giants” suddenly dials the rock down about five notches and we hear the softer side of House of Heroes. While this would work well in an acoustic setting, there are also some nice electric guitar things going on. Although it may be slightly repetitive, there is enough diversity throughout the song to keep it fresh and interesting. I find this song bittersweet. It’s easy to get swept up in the beauty of the music without realizing how tragic the lyrics are. It’s about the way things once were and how things really cannot be that way again. But this doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Fans who like “By Your Side” from The End Is Not The End will probably like this one.
This leads nicely into “The Cop,” a slow, acoustic story about what life might be like for a police officer. The simple accompaniment puts the spotlight on the lyrics and meaning of this beautiful song. The quietness transitions well to Rigsby’s tricky sticking pattern for “Comfort Trap.” The guitar, with a simple melody, and Skipper, with hushed near-spoken delivery, take turns imitating Rigsby’s rhythm thru the verses. The chorus lets loose in an aggressive, grinding outburst, with the vocals landing somewhere around a melodic yell. The emotion is reined into a restrained murmur for the last line of the first chorus. The second verse mirrors the first, but the second chorus lets everything fly. The guitars hammer out all kinds of frustration over the comfort of American Christianity, after Skipper lets loose a few well placed screams. Listen to this one a few times over. Once you recover from the rock, really listen to the lyrics. It’s worth it. Quoting a few lines just won’t do it justice. This song is my favorite, two rock-fists way up.
“Touch This Light” was released as a single in April as well as on video. This is the closest to pop-rock this album gets. The verses are filled with hushed intensity, exploding in the choruses, and then inviting everyone to join in on the ‘oh’s’ leading into the bridge. Skipper’s voice has the perfect gravelly tone. The beautiful guitar outro sustains the last note into “Angels of Night.” Fingers slide along electric guitar strings, one note plunks on a piano key and a guitar string is struck as chimes or bells ring out. A quiet, ethereal band softly tunes, but when the first calm note of the verse is sung, all noise is silenced. Eventually a low drum beat and an occasional well-placed strum enters only to add subtle accompaniment. Half-way through the first chorus, the rest of the band enters with the force of angel’s wings, maintaining this level of intensity through much of the rest of the song. A pause is held for dramatic effect on the poignant bridge then they soar back toward the outro of this beautifully crafted, reflective prayer.
Pull out the lighters! I guess it’s cell phones now. “Stay” makes me want to wave some light-producing device in the air! I love the irony in this song. It’s upbeat and fun but ultimately about a man who knows he’s in an unhealthy relationship. Still he doesn’t want to end it, so he tries to make her leave by giving her an ultimatum. He’s saying, “Please don’t leave. I want you to stay, like nothing else! But if you leave, don’t come back. Oh wait, don’t go.” Long-time fans may be surprised by the electronic twist to “Suspect,” as this is a departure from the norm for House of Heroes. Fear not, dedicated fans. This song tells a story, which should be a comfort, even if it is about being on the run from the police. This story is told through all aspects of the music. Vocals mimic sirens, as well as incorporating real sirens at the end of the song for effect. Alternating percussion & guitar creates suspense with a pseudo-heartbeat or imitate running feet. Vocals even sometimes sound out of breath or hushed as if hiding. It is true artistry at work!
The album comes almost full circle with the outroduction, “Curtains.” We return to the beach and crashing waves, this time led in by Skipper and later joined by the rest of the band. The album closes with revolutionary rock anthem, “I Am A Symbol.” We are lead in with keys and hushed vocals, then a low throbbing bass drum. I imagine a lone man walking along a street out of the darkness. By the end of the chorus, the band joins in, and in my mind, a crowd emerges from the darkness following him. It’s perfect for the closer. This is an anthem for the ages!
If I had to sum up this album in one word it would be “raw.” The vocals, instrumentation, lyrics, emotion, feel, vibe, it’s all raw. While some fans may be disappointed by the apparent lack of a story or unifying theme as House of Heroes has done in the past, Cold Hard Want does not disappoint musically. There are unifying ideas, like mentioned before, the relationship between choices and consequences. What is also clear this recording took a whole lot of blood and sweat. They brought everything they had to the studio and it appears they left it pressed into this record.
Recommended Tracks: Out My Way, Remember The Empire, We Were Giants, The Cop, Comfort Trap, Touch This Light, Angel of Night, Stay, Suspect, I Am A Symbol
1. A Man Who’s Not Afraid
2. Out My Way
3. Dance (Blow It All Away)
4. Remember The Empire
5. We Were Giants
6. The Cop
7. Comfort Trap
8. Touch This Light
9. Angel of Night
13. I Am A Symbol