Sound — 9
The post-hardcore scene seems to have hit a standstill. Recent releases more or less just rehash the sounds and techniques of other bands. But occasionally, a band bursts out onto the scene that revolutionizes the genre with a unique, inventive sound. Enter Hands Like Houses.
The Australian group has a thick, semi-chaotic sound that blends the technical guitar work of bands like A Skylit Drive and Dance Gavin Dance with the rhythmic punch of early Woe, Is Me and Of Machines. I cannot praise their instrumental sound enough. The guitars are as soaring as they are ferocious, combining post hardcore noodling with treble heavy breakdowns. Matt Cooper and Alex Pearson manage to meld tried and true techniques into something that comes off new and fresh, no small feat in such an over saturated genre.
The rhythm section (Joel Tyrell on bass and Matt Parkitney) locks tightly, giving the otherwise erratic guitar work a solid. Foundation to build off of. Matt's drumming shines especially, bringing tight double bass and fill work to the top of the mix often. Mix in Jamal Sabet's keyboard work, which focuses on string and bell sounds rather than the psudo-brostep sounds plaguing the genre lately, and their sound rounds out into something as epic as it is ferocious.
Lyrics — 9
The vocals are one of the most pleasent surprises the band posesses. One important element of their sound is the complete absence of screaming on the album. Vocalist Trenton Woodley's voice is clear and soaring, sharing common ground with the soul influenced croonings of vocalists like Jonny Craig and Tyler Carter. His voice is powerful and commanding, but none of that would matter if the lyrics aren't up to snuff.
Again, HLH's lyrics are miles above their peers, illustrating unique song topics and stories. "Spineless Crow", which the band describes as, "explor(ing) building and breaking relationships, becoming jaded and... Mixed up... With love", sports a catchy and well written chorus, as follows:
"We were young together, but I've grown ancient
Cracked and withered and filled with regret
Waiting to sink, rushing to sink in my sleep"
Wordplay plays a vital role in the lyrics. "Don't Look Now, I'm Being Followed. Act Normal" compares fighting the unknown to a Prince Caspian-esque chronicle of sailing to the edge of the earth. "Watchmaker" combines the themes of a life fleeting and the prominence of technology in society with time based imagery and longing. The amount of work and care that went into the lyrics and vocals is obvious, and pleasing.
Overall Impression — 9
Between the tight, complex musical performances and soaring, soul spiked vocals, "Ground Dweller" is unlike any post hardcore record I've ever reviewed. The song structures are varied, the music matches the mood of the lyrics. Just about everything these guys attempt not only works, but exceeds expectations.
HLH are most popular as a live band, but their debut shines almost as brightly as their live set. It's a blistering listen from "Antarctica" to "The Sower", and one of my favorite releases this year. If you enjoy your post hardcore on a more serious or technical note, "Ground Dweller" is nothing short of spectacular.
For fans of: Chiodos, Dance Gavin Dance, Woe, Is Me (before "Genesi[s]").
Suggested tracks: "Antarctica", "Spineless Crow", "Watchmaker".