For Fans Of
Whether you agree or disagree, crowdfunding remains one of the most popular and (at times) effective means of music distribution. It’s a simplification of the honoured musician-fan relationship, and, in most cases, removes all of that pesky ‘music business’ shit. Thanks Internet! So, it’s hardly surprising that when North Carolina hard rock outfit He Is Legend were released from their contract with Tragic Hero Records in 2014 (after the release of the massively underrated ‘Heavy Fruit’), the group quickly announced an independent crowdfunding campaign via Indiegogo for their upcoming fifth studio album (which, in the interests of full disclosure, this reviewer was a proud, yet small, contributor).
We here at Killyourstereo.com have talked at length about the perils and pitfalls of crowdfunding, and how despite the best intentions of the musicians involved, it can all go pear-shaped in an instant. But too often we overlook the positives of such an initiative, particularly in the turbulent and fickle landscape of alternative and heavy music. Crowdfunding (and other similar platforms) have managed to keep bands like progressive metal outfit Protest The Hero alive and kicking for many years, based solely on support from their dedicated fanbase. Even locally, successful Aussie acts like post-rock sensation sleepmakeswaves have utilised crowdfunding for new albums, such as this year’s excellent ‘Made Of Breath Only,’ which allows them to release new material, tour nationally and even internationally, all with very minimal label involvement.
For He Is Legend, the risk of crowdfunding proved to be a raging success, with the band achieving 124% of their original goal (close to $70000 USD). Such an outstanding effort even helped the band to renegotiate for label interest, with the team at Spinefarm Records snatching up the band and distribution of their finished record.
So now, three years after ‘Heavy Fruit’ and well into the second decade of their career, He Is Legend present us with the reward of their crowdfunding journey: their fifth studio album, ‘few’. And if nothing else, ‘few’ proves that He Is Legend are a band that are very comfortable in their own skin. While many of the bands they toured with in the metalcore/post-hardcore hey-day of the mid-00’s only played at doing a ‘rock album’ or an off-kilter, stylistic shift, He Is Legend have always taken strands of disparate musical inspiration and successfully weaved them into their sonic DNA. While the guttural screams and superfluous breakdowns of early releases like the ‘91025’ EP and debut album ‘I Am Hollywood’ are far behind them (along with the more spasmodic, art-rock flirtations of ‘I Hate You’), their fifth album appears to be situated somewhere between the Southern gothic elements of the boisterous ‘Suck Out The Poison’ and the polished, progressive moments of ‘Heavy Fruit’.
Thankfully, from the first notes of politically-divisive album opener ‘Air Raid,’ it’s clear that this is still the same He Is Legend fans know and expect: smoky lead riffs, distorted, rumbling bass and front-man Schuylar Croom’s unique and enthralling vocal presence. It’s a smooth start, and once the band dig their hooks in nice and deep, the track splits down the middle with a charging mid-section and galloping drums, kicking into overdrive with the band’s trademark, swampy, hard rock bite. It’s a track that sets the tone for the rest of the record, as the band move effortlessly through a plethora of differing moods and textures – such as grunge, funk, southern rock, blues, alt-rock and sludge – without ever having to settle on any one approach.
This ‘kitchen sink’ approach to heavy, guitar-driven music as a malleable genre is ultimately what continues to set He Is Legend apart from their rock and metal contemporaries. And on ‘few,’ the band’s knack for instrumental flexibility is found on almost all the album’s twelve tracks, helping to infuse their sound with just enough originality and identity to remain both ahead and above the genre’s bottom feeders.
Side A of the record finds He Is Legend in fine, rocking form, with some of their most straight-forward banger tracks. Chugging guitars and soaring melodies, courtesy of guitarists Adam Tanbouz and Denis Desloge (playing lead and rhythm respectively) compete for dominance on ‘Silent Gold’ and lead single ‘Sand,’ with thick, down-tuned passages that sound like the group are desperately searching for primal heaviness at the bottom of a tar pit. ‘Alley Cat’ makes the best of simmering bluesy grooves, dancing impeccably in step with the crunchy tones of bassist Matty Williams, while elsewhere, Croom continues to prove that he’s one of the most talented vocalists in alternative music, with strong pipes, unrivalled range and a penchant for cryptic and gothic lyricism.
On the charming Southern ballad ‘Beaufort,’ Croom spins a tale of crying wolves, redemption and retribution punctuated with a barn-stomping solo (“The night grew cold, to no relief/No warmth in death, no good in grief/If I should die before I wake/Better in dreams than at the stake”), and on the mammoth ‘Jordan,’ crushing beat-downs burst out from lumbering sludge and wailing background leads, as Croom ruminates on deception and unspeakable horrors (“Are you monster?/Are you man?/Is that a mask or just your skin?/Who could tell/You wear it well/We all can tell”).
Across Side B of ‘few,’ the band pushes the gates wide open, letting their inner progressive run free with more expansive and chaotic instrumentation. On ‘Gold Dust,’ He Is Legend masterfully execute a switch from tribal drumming and delicate, lush harmonies, to dense, down-tuned sliding guitar scales, before leaping back in to a rising chorus—all in the space of roughly 30 seconds. Softer moments like the ethereal ambience of slow-burn ‘Call Ins’ – with Croom’s smooth, buttery croons – or the alt-grunge chords and Southern licks of ‘Eastern Locust’ help to keep the listener guessing. The playful ‘Fritz The Dog’ finds the band flirting with a jazzy dash of Mike Patton-esque, carnival funk (which works much better than that sounds) and closer ‘The Garden’ caps things off on a suitably heavy note: a doom-ridden, sludge intro that dives headfirst into themes of darkness, revenge and grim undertones, as a weighty, chugging refrain descends into a blazing solo that could easily spiral off a classic Pantera or Down record.
While it can often be daunting at times, ‘few’ is most definitely a wild ride and well worth the price of admission.
In anticipation of ‘few’s release, He Is Legend have accrued plenty of accolades from their peers in the heavy music community. In a feature for Alternative Press magazine, Underoath vocalist Spencer Chamberlain remarked: “There’s a handful of bands out there, that when I hear their record, I wish that I wrote it… He Is Legend have always been one of those bands.” While Matt Halpern of Periphery fame gushed: “This new record absolutely crushes. Fans like me—who have been around for years—will certainly not be disappointed.” And it seems that for He Is Legend, there’s no greater compliment than being ‘that band’ that your favourite musicians listen to. Their sound is both at once a congregation of influence and a distinct statement of identity. Simply put: He Is Legend sound like He Is Legend.
And while the band can’t be faulted for sticking to their guns and keeping things raw and honest, ‘few’ does feel very awfully safe in terms of musical risk, with a radio-ready vibe that fails to hit the more memorable moments of standout albums like ‘Suck Out The Poison’ or ‘Heavy Fruit’. It’s by no means a bad record, but far from their magnum opus. However, if ‘few’ manages to inject new life and vitality into a hard-working rock outfit like He Is Legend, then that’s certainly an overwhelming positive.
- Air Raid
- Silent Gold
- Alley Cat
- Gold Dust
- Call Ins
- Eastern Locust
- Fritz the Dog
- The Vampyre
- The Garden
‘few’ is available now through Spinefarm Records/Caroline Australia, and you can purchase the album physically here and digitally here. Meanwhile, this track is easily my personal favourite He Is Legend song and makes me feel all warm inside. Enjoy.