Ladies and gentleman, Hawthorne Heights are back... and it's not that impressive.
I grew up listening to Hawthorne Heights. I absolutely adored them. However, I stopped following around 2007. After the untimely death of their third guitarist and original dirty vocalist, Casey Calvert, they seemed to lose steeam, and I found their release from that year, Fragile Future, to be weak. It lacked the aggression, the sincerity, and conversley, even the catchiness and hooks of their first two albums. When I heard about this new EP, part of a conceptual trilogy linked in with 2011's Hate, (with another EP in the series after this confirmed) I jumped at the chance to listen to and review it. I had heard whispers that Hate was a return to form for the band, and assumed that Hope would be the same.
The Ohio quartet, (formerly a quintet) open the release jarringly. In a case of "Pearl Jam syndrome", the EP begins with a track called There Was a Kid (Part 2) which was, uh, rythmic spoken word. As a concept EP, I rolled with this, Lead singer, JT Woodruff's voice doesn't quite seem to have the qualities it used to, and sounds rather nasal here. The production is somewhat scruffy, and Woodruff's pitch is questionable in the second half of the song.
Secondly, New Winter kicks in, possibly the only track on the EP of any merit. They've brought back the dirty vocals, although they lack the unique quality of Calvert's, they perfectly punctuate the verses, much like the band used to, and the song is hooky, whilst being genuine and aggressive. It the definite high point of the album, and possibly even a standout amongst the band's back catalogue. It is definitely worth a listen.
The third track, Running in Place (NIKI AM) is a clever inversion of the single off their first album The Silence in Black and White, Niki FM - the former which says says "But I can't get you from my clothes/ I'll never stand outside your window," which is a clever play on both the earlier song's name and chorus line... "I'm outside of your window/ With my radio,". If only the song itself was as clever as its play on words though. Frankly it sounds like it was written by a seventh-rate A Day to Remember cover band. Both out of place, and not that good. Track four, Stranded is perhaps closer to what HH have always done, but it doesn't have a memorable line it, and the production quality is shameful for a band of this stature.
The rest of the album continues in the same vein - it seems Hawthorne Heights have gone Easycore. It's quite a step from their earlier Post-Hardcore material. What is striking, though, is how rough it is. Most of the instrumental tracks are crisp, but nuances such as feedback are implemented clumsily, and Woodruff's vocal tracks are frakly, terrible. His pitch and diction are not at all up to standard and well, not that good. In the sections where he's not supported by backup screams, it is clear how weak his voice is, and because of the lack of dynamics in the earlier albums, this is more apparent.
Hawthorne Heights had a well-publicised split from Victory Records a number of years ago, but it seems it was not for the better - this EP, released on their own label, Cardboard Empire is shoddily produced, and a band this big simply has no excuse for this.
If this EP was a b-side to the second track, New Winter, I'd appreciate it, commend it, even. But it's not. It is the second in a trilogy. New Winter is a stellar track, and I would like to draw attention to this before I make my closing comments. For a band that has traditionally been based on a mix of aggression and hooks, this EP somehow manages to lack both. The vocal track is unimpressive, the mastering and production are downright shameful for a band that has scored a #7 on the Billboard Charts. The band do not at all play to their strong points, and whilst it's not terrible, it's just plain... average. From these guys, we can rightly expect better. Mercifully, the band seems to realise that New Winter is the high point of the EP, and they've released a lyric video of it. With any hope, they'll use the exposure and cash gained from the one standout song to not butcher their next release.