He Is Legend – Endless Hallway
Released: November 11th, 2022
Schuylar Croom // vocals
Jesse Shelley // drums
Matty William // bass
Adam Tanbouz // guitar
The sweet thing about North Carolina’s He Is Legend is that they do not have a bad record. Not even the one that some (not me) consider as their black sheep, Suck Out The Poison (2006). For those who don’t know He Is Legend, let’s cover some basics. There’s their popular, super catchy rock-metalcore debut, I Am Hollywood (2004); the aforementioned is-good-actually Suck Out The Poison; arguably their biggest and best album, It Hates You (2009), my personal favourite; the darker “oh my god, who hurt you” record, Heavy Fruit (2014); the decent radio-rock all-rounder, few (2017); then there’s the strong, rowdy and varied collection of songs, White Bat (2019.)
Everyone who’s into He Is Legend, me included, has a different ranking of their six albums – now seven, with this latest full-length – yet there isn’t a slacking dud amongst their incredibly consistent discography. I think most fans can agree with this sentiment, regardless of which one tops their own individual list. This truth about their release history remains a steadfast universal law with the quartet’s sick new outing, the insanely hooky, utterly riff-stacked and mid-pandemic decompression session of Endless Hallway.
Endless Hallway is the sound of a band all fired up and chomping at the bit to break free. To make good on their last album cycle getting cut short thanks to the big Spicy Cough™. (White Bat released June 28th 2019). One early instance where you clearly feel this burning desire, showing the album’s intent to get the band out and send it hard on the road, is ‘Lifeless Lemonade.’ It’s about wanting to escape metaphorically endlessly looping sights and haunts, like your own house. Trapped in a situation where you’re trying desperately to turn lemons into lemonade, except you’re stuck at home with hordes of said lemons indefinitely, only able to post photos and videos of your new batches of lemonade to other sick lemon freaks all over the world who pick up what you put down. Or, as the band themselves better put it: “You’re trying live your dream from a closed-off room or endless hallway. It’s how we felt in the middle of the Pandemic. We pride ourselves on our live show. Without that, it was lifeless.”
These guys have almost always put an attention-grabbing first song as the opener, and ‘The Prowler’ is no different. It begins instantly without any preamble, something that I can’t say He Is Legend often concern themselves with. They’re not here to f*ck spiders, y’know? This is a heavy-ass rock’n’roll opener that just unleashes the beast, with giant guitars and even bigger half-time choruses. Immediately showcasing the group’s highly successful ‘riffs-first, everything else second’ mentality via a hair-raising guitar and hi-hat combination. When they slow things wwwwwaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy down for its finale, the band come off as effortlessly powerful. It’s an immediate confirmation that He Is Legend hasn’t lost what made them great, and by this stage, likely never will. That wasn’t the case back in 2006 when they almost broke up and their sound somewhat shifted away from their debut; that wasn’t the case back in 2010-2011 when they came out of hiatus and started the long road down to their fourth album in 2014; certainly not now with their first new belter in three years.
Truly, this is some of the heaviest and most aggressive He Is Legend material to date. There’s also nothing like ‘Time To Stain,’ ‘Call Ins,’ ‘Uncanny Valley,’ or ‘China White III’ present. It’s all muscle, all brute force. I don’t think the band have sounded quite as large before now. few came close sonically, but this is a new realm for the band. Saosin’s Beau Burchell mixed this bad boy and the whole record sounds genuinely larger-than-life. ‘Lifeless Lemonade’ cements this, thanks to Adam Tanbouz’s dope bends and decapitating Shuggah-esque harmonic scrapes (which he later brings back on ‘Circus Circus‘), Matty William’s five-string low rumbles, Jesse Shelley’s double-kick work, and the punky skipping rhythms that the instrumental flirts with in the verses. Minus the unnecessary fade-out – my one true bane – and a few somewhat corny, pitched-around vocals declaring the title, this is a proper HIL classic in the making.
These first two tracks were released as singles in September, securing Endless Hallway a spot within an alarmingly sized portion of my brain reserved for the best albums of any given year. Going into this seventh LP, I knew deep in my bones that jumping off from this pair, the remaining ten tracks would very likely be the opposite of watching Elon Musk tank Twitter in real-time: that the album would either easily maintain that consistency from its first two movements throughout or perhaps even get better as it went on. Lo and behold, it’s a glorious blend of these two outcomes. Here, look, I can prove it with science:
While I do have some extremely minor criticisms that border on obsessive nitpicking because I’m a c*nt, I do love being right. This album’s great! So let’s get down to brass tacks about the rest of the LP before this review blows out length-wise like everything else I write. ‘Honey From The Hive’ is just sprawling, whether it’s in the crushing intro, the meter change at 054: or that sublime chorus. The menacing, hulking mass of ‘Return To The Garden‘ maintains this trend with a white-knuckled grip, sounding like it’s breaking nearby seismographs whenever I put it on. When it barrels into those grim refrains, it feels like a perfect Halloween piece, lyrically conjuring up things that go bump in the night, giving me chills when its galloping bridge section takes off.
The diabolical ‘Seimistress’ is chug and hook central, HIL once again threading the needle beautifully between heaviness and melody like real pros. On the evil-as-hell title track, it sounds like a permanent blood moon has risen and it’s everyone for themself under this harmony-fueled bedlam. ‘Time’s Fake’ features the most dissonant and panicked part of the LP, a firm reminder they have been and always will be a metalcore band. ‘Sink Hole’ is a wild underground party with maelstrom guitars and a fiendish breakdown ready to kill all shallow holiday goodwill. (I know I said ‘Return to the Garden‘ was Halloween suitable, but ‘Sink Hole‘ actually mentions Halloween (and Christmas) in its lyrics. Still not changing my earlier take.) Then there’s the six-minute closer, ‘Lord Slug.’ It’s drenched in weaponised catharsis with by far the heaviest passage heard anywhere on Endless Hallway, sounding like HIL is committing unholy sacrilege that’s cracking the walls of the place of worship it’s being performed within. The song’s sign-off perfectly captures the hypocrisy of pureness that ironically poisons the most pious and conservative aspects of all religions: “How dare you speak of love with a heart so shrivelled up.”
One thing He Is Legend does well is how they mix their foundation of slick hard rock, groovin’ hardcore, classic heavy metal and contemporary metalcore with other influences sprinkled in nicely. (One of the reasons why I love Heavy Fruit and It Hates You.) ‘Sour’ is exactly this. It’s the album’s catchiest song, their hookiest track since ‘Sand‘ in my mind, and also their most communal number next to the record’s penultimate mid-tempo rocker, ‘Animals.’ ‘Sour‘ so competently bridges their guitar heroism and skilful sing-alongs with shades of other genres in the verses with new tones and how the backing vocals are voiced. Without ‘Sour,’ this album just wouldn’t be as good.
Endless Hallway is one of those records where you receive exactly what you wished for, reaffirming everything that’s great about the artist that made it and why you liked them to begin with, whilst never really straying from what they’ve done before. In that sense, hell yeah! It’s perfectly palatable and consistent for both longtime fans who know the score already and any readers who love heavy music but have sadly yet to become acquainted with HIL. Though I did wish there was some further exploration away from their still very good but absolutely beaten path. While I do really enjoy the album’s second half, I noticed that things got a little same-same on repeat listens in the lead-up to ‘Lord Slug.’ Again, these are tiny nitpicks but that’s only coming from a place of love. As for me, HIL are such a talented band that I feel like getting more curveballs, no matter how big or small, could only ever result in even more exciting music.
As much as this album rips – and be rest assured, it does – something that wasn’t quite to my taste is some of the vocal production but not in the sense you may think.
I haven’t mentioned frontman Schuylar Croom hitherto because, well, what am I gonna say? “Oh he’s great on this song, killed it on this one, nailed it on track five” ad nauseam until the review is done? Yawn. That’d just waste your time and Wall Of Sound’s digital ink; we all know how great he is on the mic. Croom is the band’s best weapon, the way his voice has developed over the years has been glorious, and Endless Hallway is a testament to his chops. From the higher notes, his devilish croon, those raw screams, that sinister metal ringleader tone he puts on, to that unmistakable grit in his timbre, the guy is a great vocalist. Like, if I wasn’t about to tell you that Croom had to recover from stomach failure due to his diabetes earlier in the year, thus pushing back the vocal recordings as he couldn’t even sing, you’d likely never know based on the performance he cuts across this full-length.
No, what I’m getting at is how when ‘Return To The Garden’ ends, the vocals are artificially slowed right down. Or take some of the higher-pitched gang calls on the eponymous track. Or ‘Circus Circus’, which has one of the best choruses on the entire bloody record, and I always love hearing Croom scream like it’s 2004 again, has vocoder/electronic talking vocals under the opening and closing sections that break my listening immersion. (Funnily enough, this was one of my only smaller gripes with their last album, too.) However, as I type this, I’m keenly aware that all of these songs are still excellent, and that if these are my biggest critiques of Endless Hallway, then HIL did something very right with this one.
Endless Hallway is quintessential He Is Legend: another terrific marriage of rock and metalcore, riffs and hooks, titanic choruses and mosh parts, driven by one of the best singers to come out of the 2000s scene. They’re one of those bands that your favourite bands love, who deserve so much more recognition than what they currently get. Maybe Endless Hallway will change that, maybe not. Either way, it’s a proper adrenaline rush. Seriously, listening to this whilst driving made me want to break the speed limit on multiple occasions. (To any cops reading, this is a joke, please don’t enquire further.)
At the start of this review, I mentioned how all fans have their own ranking of the group’s discography. Taking stock of this new LP, my list would look something like this: 1. It Hates You, 2. Heavy Fruit, 3. Endless Hallway, 4. I Am Hollywood, 5. White Bat, 6. Suck Out The Poison, 7. few. Honestly, there aren’t many bands that after almost twenty years together are still releasing some of their tightest and most essential work. Works like Endless Hallway. But then again, very few bands are He Is Legend. Burn all your rock records, yes, but save this one.
He Is Legend – Endless Hallway tracklisting:
1. The Prowler
2. Lifeless Lemonade
3. Honey From The Hive
4. Return To The Garden
5. Circus Circus
8. Endless Hallway
9. Time’s Fake
10. Sink Hole
12. Lord Slug
Endless Hallway drops November 11th on Spinefarm Records. Pre-order here.
(Dig HIL reusing bat imagery for this album’s cover as their previous album did.)
Review by Alex Sievers