HE IS LEGEND’S PRETTY HATES MACHINE
With the help of a time machine, I want to travel back to 2007 when I saw He Is Legend play live in support of their troubled sophomore album Suck Out The Poison. Such a record at first evaded my comprehension, as should an intermittently great melody record that manages to do absolutely nothing else right. After the slickly produced, flawlessly arranged, and powerfully executed debut I Am Hollywood, Suck was more easily characterized by its failures, from free-hand, impactless production by a bewildered Steve Evetts (E. Town Concrete, Symphony X) to singer Schuyler Croom’s most aggravating collection of overwrought imagery and affected rasping. Gone was the crisp, shimmery He Is Legend sound, and in its place lay this coil of turds, this raped corpse of I Am Hollywood, an avenging of its immediacy and neatness with corny Southern rockisms, petulant croaking, and cardboard dynamics.
Anyway, on that groggy summer evening, He Is Legend took the stage, revealing the visual counterpart to their sonic transformation; they now resembled a Black Crowes cover band – no longer emo-haircut types – and, from the stage, my facial expressions during the first song must have been hilarious: blank non-recognition (huh yet another opener?) to perplexity (wait, this sounds familiar) to shock (oh that’s them wtf?). And if Suck’s uniform is a ratty denim jacket and Pabst Blue Ribbon tee, then a sport jacket and $260 jeans adorn It Hates You, their third album. It’s both the band’s heaviest and most ethereal record, a progressive and aggressive album that (thank balls) repeats none of Suck’s mistakes, save for Croom’s penchant for the melodramatic. Still, his successes are numerous and triumphant, and, like I Am Hollywood, Hates isn’t ashamed of its populist tendencies, its confident and careful melodies and propulsive rhythms.
Indeed, it’s immediately apparent from the stylistic twists and harmonies of opener “Dicephalous” that this is neither an uncooperative nor one-dimensional record; at its best, Hates puts He Is Legend in line with other heavy bands that deliver both dominating melodies and dramatic atmospheres: Deftones, Glassjaw, At The Drive-In, and Cave In. But after its initial burst, the band stumbles through derivative but charming workouts “Party Time!” (Head Automatica), “Everyone I Know Has Fangs” (Tomahawk), and “The Primary Blues” (Glassjaw). The expansive “Stranger Danger” suffers from a forgettable chorus and two stillborn codas, themselves separated by the record’s only failed bridge. (Try more guitar solos, hello-oo.) Then the haunting pre-chorus of “Don’t Touch That Dial” begins the climb to It Hates You’s dizzying climax, despite being soured by the arena-sized frat hook that follows.
From there, be assured that It Hates You is a string of epics in which post-Coldplay dreampop abuts sledgehammer riffing. Assuredly among the best half-dozen songs of 2009, side B is when the real He Is Legend stands up. “Decisions, Decisions, Decisions” is fluttery bliss until it disintegrates into a candle-lit duet (with fellow North Carolinian Bibis Ellison) then restates Croom’s superb chorus in a lumbering sludge metal. In the album’s most frenetically heavy song, “Future’s Bright, Man,” a manic Croom alternates between raving and crooning from the driver’s seat of a skidding, swerving car. It’s songs like these that make it possible to forgive He Is Legend’s persistent faults, and none more so than the pair of epics that close It Hates You, the winding harmonies atop bludgeoning drone of “That’s Nasty,” and “Mean Shadows,” which pits angular Jawbox punk against the post-dub of Dredg, culminating in a towering finale that I bet Henry Rollins and Devin Townsend would love. Few bands achieve the awesome and the awful like He Is Legend, but It Hates You is a reconciliation with their first record, negating the revolt (or crisis of confidence) that it caused. Likewise, the ease with which they exploit stylistic touchstones and match poignant to pummeling illuminates the failures of the flavorless, contrived Suck Out The Poison, on which they were being a Rock band as opposed to a band that rocks. They rock now. But will they rock again?
(4 out of 5 horns)
Anso DF recently wrapped the inaugural Bon Jovi Hate Week on daily metal news column Hipsters Out Of Metal!.