For Fans Of
Sharing the same name with their 2014 EP and acting as some sort of successor to it, new LP ‘Welcome To The West Coast II’ shows that even after a one-year break, California’s Lionheart can only do one thing well: writing generic, tough-guy-sounding, by the numbers hardcore.
Everything about their new 10-track record, from its instrumentation and production, riffs and chord progressions, breakdowns, drum patterns, the vocal phrasing, and the pit-calls are as trite as one could imagine for hardcore in 2017. And I know that all of you reading this review have definitely heard hardcore exactly like this from a dozen other bands and more; a sound that’s existed for years and will continue to long after Lionheart and their many peers are done and dusted.
Much like 2016’s ‘Love Don’t Live Here‘ and their previous records, Lionheart walk this fine line of delivering serious, straight-faced, and solid hardcore tunes that tackle real-life issues and very heavy personal experiences. Yet they undercut this by spending a little too much time discussing the genre’s cliche topics of touring and living the hard band life (‘Trial By Fire‘), by constantly screeching about the local music scene they came from (‘Cali Stomp‘), and talking themselves up ad nauseam (‘LHHC ’17‘, which also features a guest spot from JJ Peters of Deez Nuts).
Sure, there’s some real anger and venom to be had on the aggro call-out track ‘Vultures’, ‘Still Bitter Still Cold‘ and ‘Cursed‘ – all in terms of the instrumentation, pacing and frontman Rob Watson’s vocals about his and his band’s various struggles. Yet at the end of the day, these three admittedly decent song’s aren’t that gripping lyrically and their actual music is again, very stock-standard and rather uneventful hardcore outside of the usual mosh moments and big drops you’d expect from a band such as Lionheart.
However, ‘Welcome To The West Coast II’ sees its greatest moments when Lionheart and their frontman hold absolutely nothing back about their darkest moments; exposing their most honest sides.
For instance, the fast-paced and circle-pit inducing ‘Shelter’ is actually a touching ode to the love, effort, sacrifices and hard work that Watson’s own mother made for him to ensure that he and his brother had as good of a life as she could possibly offer them both. (“Never had much, but we had enough/that much is true, this one’s for you” as well as “I was raised by a real woman, she ain’t afraid to go to war for her two children“). And I will say this right now: there is nothing – I repeat, nothing – more hardcore than showing your love and appreciation for your mum, and ‘Shelter drops the dude-bro pretence that often surrounds Lionheart’s music. Hence why it’s one of this records standout tracks.
Elsewhere, you have ‘Unhinged’, which doesn’t feature any of their go-to Terror/Hatebreed-worshipping hardcore sounds but is instead made up of various answering machine recordings of someone trying desperately to get in touch with Watson. At first, it all seems a little random; maybe hinting at some music scene beef from an unhinged individual. But as the recording of further missed phone calls from this person continue, you sense that there’s something much deeper, much darker here than just a scorned acquaintance or a bitter friend trying to get in touch. And the following track, ‘Thirty Years‘, brings the impactful clarity of this story to the forefront.
‘Thirty Years‘ itself is a groovy, chug-heavy yet legitimately sad song telling the tale of Watson’s brother’s (or perhaps, a very close friend’s) incarceration for being involved in a deadly shooting and who is now serving that supposed thirty years behind bars for their crime. With wailing police sirens heard behind the song’s breakdowns and gunshot samples lined up with the track’s kick and snare hits and Watson declaring “that’s the sound of your world breaking down“, this song shows the real emotional and sonic impact that I feel Lionheart’s music is indeed capable of yet often misses. The frontman also doesn’t hold back here, delivering lines like “Somehow, someway/I know I’ll see you on the outside someday“, “Last night, I was out at dinner with some friends/they asked if you’d gone to trial/they asked how’d you been” and “…it breaks my heart the drugs ruined you“; all culminating in a very dark, very heavy topic that’s fittingly matched with heavy music that tells a moving story of someone getting involved people and things they really shouldn’t have had. (Also, in far less serious manners, while it is a little silly, I did get a good kick out of self-aware nod of Watson yelling “breakdown” right before the band launch into an actual breakdown. Meta, yes, but tight-as-fuck!)
The trend you may have noticed here is that while this band’s music is nearly always just a mere check-list of modern hardcore conventions, but when they cut the shit and open up about the tough shit of their lives, Lionheart’s music reaches its true peak.
Case in point, much like how ‘Rest In Power‘ was a powerful story of family members passing away, or like how ‘Pain‘ and the title track from ‘Love Don’t Live Here‘ were open-diary tales of Watson’s battles with mental illness and his encroaching suicidal thoughts, ‘Treading Water‘ carries a very similar emotional weight to it (see: “I swear to god this life ain’t worth living” and “treading water for so long/and I think I’m gonna drown“). And it’s with ‘Treading Water‘, along with songs like ‘Shelter‘ and ‘Thirty Years‘ that really save ‘Welcome To The West Coast II‘ from being a woefully average hardcore record.
Peter Worrall, the owner of Australian hardcore label, 10-54 Records, once told me that hardcore, as a genre, rarely ever changes. (That’s a massive understatement, in truth). But he added that what makes hardcore work so goddamn well is the heart, honesty and the emotion that bands can pour into their songs. With Lionheart and ‘Welcome To The West Coast II’, that’s only half true it seems. After a rather brief hiatus, I was really hoping that these guys would completely cut the shit and deliver their most honest and most emotional record to date; doing away with their genre’s usual cliche topics and tropes and creating something consistently gripping in the process. Even if it didn’t reinvent the wheel. However, only songs like ‘Shelter’, ‘Treading Water’ and ‘Unhinged’/’Thirty Years’ become such standouts due to their content whereas the remaining tracks, which while not totally awful, are simply generic hardcore tunes that we’ve all heard a thousand times over by now with little else to offer thematically.
Honestly, I genuinely look forward to the day when I can confidently say I’ve enjoyed a Lionheart record all the way through. But that day hasn’t arrived just yet, sadly.
1. Cali Stomp
2. Still Better Still Cold
5. Trial By Fire
8. Thirty Years
9. Treading Water
10. LHHC ‘17
‘Welcome To The West Coast II’ is out November 10th, 2017 via Fast Break! Records.