It's been four years since the last full release from House of Heroes. A B-Sides album, the Smoke EP and a Christmas EP helped bridge the gap, but everyone who listens to the band knows they are in their best element when making full-length albums. After creating two loosely conceptual albums, The End Is Not the End and Suburba, the highly underrated rock band decided to stretch their creative talents and write a full-fledged concept album. Colors tells the fictional story of three characters: Eric, who moved back to his home city after a failed pursuit of his dreams, his cousin Axel who thinks he runs the town, and love interest Joni. Forsaking any traces of their light-hearted and fun-loving lyrics, exemplified on "Baby's a Red" or "She Mighty Mighty," Colors' thematic content is very serious, and ultimately left unresolved. Connecting these thirteen tracks is an overarching theme of predeterminism vs idealism (free will). These philosophical ideas show up with words and phrases like "colors" and "making our stars," with "colors" being equivalent to inevitable destiny and "stars" being a metaphor for determining your own fate.
The story is structured like a literary drama with an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and desolution. The songs are told from the perspective of a narrator, Axel, Eric, or a both Axel and Eric, making it initially difficult for most listeners to follow along without background information. "Colors Run" and "Pioneer" introduce the protagonist (Eric) and the antagonist (Axel) with their own theme songs. The plot develops in "Rat," where Eric witnesses his cousin Axel commit a serious crime, but is coaxed into keeping his mouth shut. In the middle of the album, a romantic relationship between Eric and Joni becomes stronger while a once confident Axel begins to break down. Tension escalates in "Crash" where a drunk Axel comes on to Joni, but is turned away. There is a big showdown between Axel and Eric in "Matador," but then the story takes a dramatic shift when Axel kills Eric in "Shots Fired" out of jealousy and fear of being caught for his first crime. Axel unsuccessfully tries to get Joni to run away with him on "Get Away," but ultimately he realizes running is futile, and we find him locked up in prison on "Colors Die Out." In a sense, the story is a modern day tragedy.
The story, however, is not as strong as the musical component of this album. In fact, this album is the most technically impressive and engaging we've heard from the band since their magnum opus, The End Is Not The End. In true House of Heroes fashion, the band fully utilizes their musical abilities to aid in telling the story. The tone of each song tends to match Axel or Eric's personalities, with Axel giving off a gritty vibe and Eric's songs being more melodic. There are also musical themes that are skillfully integrated into several songs, most notably a guitar riff that shows up in various forms on "Colors Run," "Pioneer" and "Shots Fired." The songs that involve Axel are some of the edgiest songs we've seen from the band, both musically and thematically. On "Feel," Axel declares his manliness over a monstrous guitar riff, "This ghetto's my cathedral / This gun my Eucharist / I take the offering / And I decide what sin is." "God" explores Axel's skewed questions about who God is with a powerful and abrasive chorus that is contrasted with whispered vocals in the verses. If you thought "Comfort Trap" was an intense listen, this song is on a whole new level of angst. On the lighter side, the slightly repetitive "We Make Our Stars" is the most hopeful song on the album, and possibly the most important in conveying the album's theme. The best softer track, however, is "In The End," which is one of several songs that also holds up well on its own, outside the context of the album. In the song, a somewhat bluesy electric guitar is accompanied by a Hammond organ and Lion King styled background vocals as Eric sings about his destiny to be with Joni, "Here's the wonder keeping stars apart / I carry your heart I carry it in my heart / Like a lion running to the slaughter / I'll come for you daughter / I'll come for you in the end."
Despite its darker nature, Colors still contains the intelligent songwriting we expect from the band and the sing-along quality that marks much of their back catalog--especially tracks like "Colors Run," "Pioneer," and "Rat." The delivery and content of the story could have been stronger, but Colors is nonetheless an ambitious and unique piece of art that is best experienced with speakers blaring.- Review date: 6/29/16, written by Christopher Smith of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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