That whole “kitchen-sink” approach to metal, particularly that peculiar strain of emo, screamo metalcore that insisted on 101 riffs per second and demanded alternating screeched and clean vocals was EVERYWHERE in the early 00s. I remember slowly getting back into the swing of extreme music and being presented with bands like The Fall of Troy, Protest the Hero, Horse the Band (holy cow, remember Horse the Band?) and countless others but it was He Is Legend and a small album called I Am Hollywood that really stuck with me. Part of it was their unabashed love of a good lick and being unafraid to write songs that captured the spirit of 90s rock, but c’mon: part of it was also the astounding range and delivery of vocalist Schuylar Croom. So it pleases me to no end that 18 years since discovering them I get to dive into Endless Hallway, their seventh album and continuing affirmation that the band still has the juice to rip a room apart without sacrificing that special sauce that made them stand out from the crowd back in the day.
After hiatuses and turmoil and lackluster label support that led to crowdfunding the band’s 2017 release few, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were slowly fading away. That was put to rest with their move to Spinefarm and the massive comeback of 2019’s White Bat, signaling a revitalized band that was heavier, angrier, and hungrier than they sounded in a decade. Living up to the promise of that signal wasn’t going to be easy, particularly in light of the pandemic and complications from diabetes that sidelined Croom for months. But listening to the Meshuggah-inspired riff that opens “Prowler” shows that the band spent the time honing all their ideas into a record that rips sonically and shows little sign of laurel resting.
Much as I love the anthemic fun of pre-hiatus albums like Suck out the Poison and It Hates You, Endless Hallway carves a very different path. Single “Lifeless Lemonade” doubles down on the heaviness of the opener, but doesn’t skimp on a killer chorus before returning to djent-y riffs, dive bombs, and a crushing in-your-face drum performance by Jesse Shelley. And then, out of the blue, you get some “whoa-o!” vocals and a bridge cut from the 90s that turns the song on its head in the best possible way before returning to that chorus.
It’s that knack of knowing when to switch the gear on a song that has kept He Is Legend in constant rotation on my playlists for so long: despite the darker nature of the album – classifying it as a “pandemic” record reduces the thematic elements at play – there are moments of light, as “Return to the Garden” sways from an almost death/doom feel to a more agitated, stand up and fight feel in alternating sequences. Lyrically Croom plumbs the darkness but also searches for the light: as heavy as “The Prowler” is, it rallies around Croom pleading to “…be together and lift each other up. We’ve got to tear the fucking city down to heal.”
But even if you’re not paying attention lyrically to what He Is Legend is dishing out (and you should – they’ve always been lyrically on point), the long and short of Endless Hallway is that it completely rocks. We get more of those luscious “whoas” midway through “Circus Circus” and it’s crazy to hear how they fit inside some of the band’s heaviest riffing in years. “Sour” recalls their earlier period of earnest rock mixed with that little extra that knocks any commercial elements against the wall. And it’s a great showcase for how guitarist Adam Tanbouz and bassist Matty Williams can play both with and against each other and make it work seamlessly, while giving Shelley enough room to make the drums its own lead instrument without being relegated to maintaining the backbeat. All that and there’s still the closing epic “Lord Slug” which wraps everything the band is about into a final clarion call announcing to all who would hear that the “legend” part of He Is Legend isn’t just there for decoration.
Endless Hallway will be available November 11 on Spinefarm Records. For more information on He Is Legend, check out their Facebook and Instagram pages.