Hellions – Rue


Artist

Album

Rue

Label

UNFD

Year

2018

For Fans Of

Zebrahead, MCR, Queen, Trophy Eyes.

Summary

Oh, how far Hellions have come!

Rating

80 / 100

Rue‘ is a very interesting record, and no, not in a bad way. Much like 2016’s grand ‘Opera Oblivia‘ before it, Hellions latest is a vibrant, joyful, varied and bold LP. Hellions‘ experimentation and growth in terms of dynamics, genres, lyricism and composing is not only commendable but also sees them create some amazingly rich, colourful and eclectic musical pieces. Once again going light years beyond their hardcore-punk roots. Whether it’s the ever-building melodic heights and uplifting vocal layerings on ‘X (Mwah)‘, ‘Rue‘, and ‘26‘; the bright guitar harmonies in ‘Odyssey‘ and how the guitars sync up with the accompanying string arrangement; the hand-claps that underpin ‘Odyssey‘ and ‘X (Mwah)‘; the chilled-out vibes that define the summery timbre of ‘Harsh Light‘; the well-placed hand percussion and tribal beats on ‘The Lotus‘; that stark key change halfway through ‘Furrow‘; the use of horns in ‘26‘; to just the heart-warming emotion that exudes from many of these songs. Seriously, this is Hellions going all out!

Album #4 is the band confidently showing the world what they can do as a collective and that their 2016 stormer wasn’t just a one-off success. If you had told me back in 2013, right after ‘Die Young‘ had dropped, that within five years and three albums Hellions would release something like ‘Rue‘, I’d have (wrongfully) laughed right in your face. Yet here we all are, with a great follow-on from the masterful ‘Opera Oblivia‘, and I’m just so stoked on how their evolution as a band has panned out. ‘Rue‘ is the Aussie favourites aiming high for their own version of albums like ‘American Idiot‘ or ‘The Black Parade‘. Now, while it ain’t perfect, that ambition and extra effort – much like the recent Trophy Eyes record, ‘The American Dream‘ – has really paid off.

Hellions, 2018.

X (Mwah)‘ blows a goodbye kiss to impermanence and worries of our position and achievements in life in face of just striving to do one’s best; with vocalist Dre Faivre talking about how if ‘If Freddie wrote his Rhapsody at 29/Maybe I still have time for mine“. (The band actually inject more than a few Queen references into this record lyrically, so keep your eyes and ears peeled). At this rate, I truly believe that Dre and the rest of the band aren’t that far off from their own seminal musical moment. Because not only is this bonafide anthem one of the best songs off ‘Rue‘, but it’s also one of Hellions greatest tracks they’ve written so far. It’s the very meaning of huge and emotive, whilst retaining the playful and unexpected natures that Hellions have come to really call their own of late.

The clock-ticking sounds that start and end the thoughtfully dynamic and glowing tapestry of the title track speaks of time and reverie; reminiscent, unifying lyrics talking about people, love, acceptance for all, and that inner-child we all have. What starts as just an electric guitar strummed away underneath Matthew Gravolin’s intimate singing, the song optimistically builds up into a multi-faceted ear-worming beast, all as drummer Anthony Caruso gives one of his busiest yet best performances behind the kit.

The head-bobbing ‘Get Up!’ sees Hellions getting funky with their rhythm section; showing off an appreciation for disjointed, bouncy, lick-heavy 90s rap-rock by doing so. It smoothly channels the same kind of energy that made 2014’s bangin’ ‘Indian Summer’ such a goddamn satisfying listen. Whilst also nicely flowing between the danceable verses and larger, hookier choruses with great bass tones, awesome momentum, and plenty of well-placed tension-and-release guitars. Zebrahead, is that you?

Calling back to the ‘Opera Oblivia‘ cut, ‘Lotus Eater‘, we get a fresh sequel to one of the most-loved songs from that previous LP with the percussive, theatrical and Latin-influenced ‘The Lotus‘. Even coming complete with a little break mid-way that sees guest vocalist Luna majestically quote ‘Lotus Eater‘ with the throwback line: “Raise your glass to the Lotus Eater/as he drifts into the ether“. There are also a few moments here where we see that darker, heavier Hellions sound from past albums leap forth, in Dre’s harsher vocals and in the distorted guitars. Of course, Hellions will never fully return to that past sound – they’ve now expanded too far beyond it at this point – but these brief flashes are great little touches for older fans like myself.

Much like their UNFD label buds in Silent Planet and their long-running song series ‘Depths‘, you can plot out the sonic and human growth of Hellions with the likes of ‘26‘. What started with ‘22‘ four years and three records ago seems like a whole new world on this album’s massive curtain-call. ‘26‘ closes the record in fine fashion, pulling out all the stops with its instrumentation and layers – strings, brass, horns, pianos, big riffs – and a structure that’d make bands like The Used and Panic! At The Disco blush with envy due to the sheer scope of it all. Unlike ‘24‘ and ‘25‘, this isn’t a lyrical or musical reprisal; it’s its own thing moving forward. It truly carries the weight of a heartfelt final scene; complete with ruminations on “the march of time“, life, death, and suicide, all as the song acts as an “escape” from the depressed, suffocating feelings of the past 11 songs. (Well, nine if you count those with actual lyrics). Listening to this track not just within the context of ‘Rue‘, but within the context of its previous four iterations is an absolute musical and emotional journey as well. One that I highly recommend you take whenever possible!

Another stroke of genius and added cohesiveness for ‘Rue‘ is often how the music shifts and turns tonally and dynamically along with the lyrical moods. Making it all feel even more “complete”. For just as how ‘Opera Oblivia‘ loved its suspended chords, the harmonies and melodies here upkeep that creativity and implementation; gelling hard with the wordings for an even more visceral reaction. Sometimes this is done to help hit home a certain theme (the darkened instrumentals in the verses of ‘The Lotus‘ match with macabre lyrics talking of blood contamination and “creeping death“), or as a way to contrast ideas (the popping bass lines, upbeat rhythms, and warm chords of ‘Odyssey‘ merge with gloomy words that paint a bluesy headspace of an unfulfilling life). I think a big part of why this musicality has reached newer, deeper levels is down to how guitarist/lyricist/songwriter Matthew Gravolin has developed over the last few years as both a musician and as a person. This is living, breathing proof of his artistic vision.

Not as positively though, one thing in Hellions trying their hardest to be even more distinctive are the circus-esque parts that sprinkle this album. These moments are the short school-yard circus number of ‘(Blueberry)‘ and the 30-second-long “skit” of ‘(Theatre Of)‘, which sets the stage for ‘The Lotus‘. And look, I get it. ‘Rue‘ is their show, it’s the band’s own “circus”, and they want to lean into this eccentric vibe as hard as they can. Because that’s also honestly why a lot of these new songs work so well. But unless it’s the final song of that new Ice Nine Kills record or I, Valiance’sThe Pillars of Ruin‘, then outside of an actual circus, I don’t at all vibe with said circus sounds being combined with other music. If I was listening to ‘Rue‘ on vinyl or had it on in the background, I probably wouldn’t skip ‘(Blueberry)‘ and ‘(Theatre Of)‘. But if I was actively seeking out this record’s greater, genuinely satisfying moments, this pair is absolutely not making the cut. Hopefully, the band don’t go too far off the deep end on future releases for the sheer sake of being weird or different. It all feels natural and effortless currently and I’d just hate for Hellions to lose that quality.

Also in terms of skippable songs, there’s the jarring mid-album interlude, ‘(Cocoon)‘. Honestly, this is a pretty disposable instrumental piece for me. With it, nothing of value is added, and without it, nothing is really lost. If the idea was to use this track as a stepping stone – as a metamorphosis from the chord progressions of ‘Furrow‘ over to ‘Rue‘ and the end of Side A – and have it bloom or break free with the latter song, then it’s all failed miserably. With only some soft keys and ride cymbal hits paired with a recurring heavy metal guitar loop, ‘(Cocoon)’ seems to want to set the album up for another dizzying dynamic musical peak, but it all just fades out with little rhyme or reason. It’s sadly the only noticeable bump in this album’s smooth, well-paced sequencing. While I’m not about ‘(Blueberry)‘ or ‘(Theatre Of)‘, at least they fit into the flow of the record and transition into their following songs seamlessly. The same cannot be said about ‘(Cocoon)‘, I don’t think.

Rue‘, lyrically and thematically, is all about perspective; about the bigger picture of your life and the lives of others; reflecting the different sides and “colours” of this world in the process. The titular track talks of sonder, of shared experiences, how we all love, and asking if “we all bleed the same“. ‘(Blueberry)‘, in a slightly mocking way, speaks of our self-applied importance: “Oh, praise be to us/The most intelligent organisms to gush forth from the womb of nature’s grand concourse“. ‘X (Mwah)‘ wonders if we’re more than just a cosmic accident, that maybe our limited existence can be used for so much more than we think; that there’s deeper potential to unlock. Others reflect the grey areas of the self and of relationships, as the forthright details of ‘The Lotus‘ share. Then a song such as ‘26‘ discusses the freedom of wild youth and the fleeting nature of time. The album really is captivating and most often ‘heady’ in lyrical content, with a real poetic beauty behind it all. More so than what most bands in Hellions‘ scene could ever hope to muster. It’s the kind of lyricism that’s seldom concerned with smaller interpersonal dramas that won’t matter in the long run. And as someone getting kinda burnt-out on personal introspection in alternative music, this is a great palette cleanser. Real food for thought.

However, there’s one weird little outlier here that bothers me. And that’s this lyric found in the second pre-chorus of the”human menagerie” that is ‘Smile‘: “We talk about people/Not about ideas or how we came to be this way“. First off, this is just wrong. There is no end to the articles, posts and discussion pieces both online – from every corner of the internet – and IRL that talk about larger ideas over the simple happenings of famous people and our friend circles; the kind that isn’t just concerned with fakeness of celebrity-culture. Hell, in a meta way, I’ve had these kinds of conversations with my own friends about social media and the way the internet and digital media has changed our lives and our private discussions. After all, we live in a world in which every pseudo-intellectual a la Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro and Sargon Of Akkad can use their platforms to talk about societal topics and political ideas. (Whether they’re right or wrong, actually grasp these concepts, and how much or little they try to thinly hide their shitty bigotry behind these topics are all other matters entirely). For what is often such a well-spoken philosophical record, this one line is a shallow, catch-all blanket statement. Something I wouldn’t ever expect from the frequently well-written lines of a Hellions song, either.

Conclusion

The definition of rue is the bitter regret of something one has done or allowed to happen and thus wishing it all undone. Yet with new album ‘Rue’, Hellions sure aren’t going to regret this record anytime soon! For this is just the next magical, bold step forward in their path to world domination. From their once powerful and masterwork of an opera has now sprung forth a colourful, dynamic and gorgeous sounding flower in the wondrous shape of ‘Rue’; blossoming brightly from the burning fuels of an eclectic Molotov bed-rock. While it may be imperfect, this still indeed solid album ensures Hellions reign as the ringleaders of Australian alternative music has only just begun.

Tracklisting

01. (Blueberry)
02. Odyssey
03. X (Mwah)
04. Smile
05. Furrow
06. (Cocoon)
07. Rue
08. (Theatre of) [feat. Luna]
09. The Lotus
10. Get Up!
11. Harsh Light
12. 26

‘Rue’ is out now! Stream it below, chuch. 

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