Sound: When Hawthorne Heights' unclean vocalist Casey Calvert passed away three years ago, the Ohio band made the decision to never to find someone to take his place. While lead guitarist Micah Carli takes over the growl duties as needed, the band's latest album Skeletons still revolves more around frontman JT Woodruff's clean singing style. That decision allows for more seamless transitions in many ways, and in the end the fourth full-length record does put its focus on big, epic choruses. While Skeletons could have easily been a dark record following the sad events of the past few years, the band gets the tragedy out of the way by the first track.
Without relying heavily on growling vocals, Hawthorne Heights do convey more of a pop-oriented style more than ever before. That's not to say that there aren't interesting songwriting choices on Skeletons, but it's Woodruff and his amazing harmonies that usually become the centerpiece on most songs. As was mentioned earlier, the opener Bring You Back doesn't shy away from the topic of death. It was the middle of the night when I heard you took your life, Woodruff sings. It's a brave way to begin, and in many ways allows the music to speak for itself for the rest of the album. Bring You Back, even with its darker theme, is representative of many of the album's songs, which are usually mid-tempo with laid-back verses leading up to huge choruses.
End Of The Underground gives Carli an opportunity to shine riff-wise, with an introduction that is easily the best guitar lick on the CD. Skeletons visits Dashboard Confessional territory with the melodic-and-emotional Drive, a track with a massive group of background singers that makes the chorus sound larger than life. From the title alone, Hollywood and Vine screams clich and in many ways it does indeed fall into that trap. While the chorus is likable enough, it's a song that just feels too predictable and stale. Skeletons does have its standout moments thanks to the band's ability to write a memorable melody line, but it still doesn't make a huge impact. // 7
Lyrics: Bring You Back most definitely takes on the most difficult topic of the album, and it's wisely placed in the opening slot. It's hard not to listen to every word when reflecting upon Calvert's passing. The remaining material does focus on the usual love/relationships theme, but the band does try to incorporate some interesting references within songs like Unforgivable (All I need is to hear your voice; You're Juliet and I'm just your poison). In the end, however, everything pales in comparison to Bring You Back. // 7
Overall Impression: With Howard Benson (Papa Roach, Daughtry) once again taking on production duties, Skeletons doesn't disappoint in terms of a stellar audio mix. The rich harmonies comes through beautifully, and it's actually difficult to imagine the record bombarded with growls/unclean vocals. They would almost feel out of place at this point. It's up for debate whether Hawthorne Heights might need some edgy device to offset the strong pop feel that has overtaken the band's sound. In the end Skeletons is a likeable enough record, but it doesn't mark a huge leap in the band's sound. // 7