Hawthorne Heights – Zero (2013)

Odds are, if you were one of those kids who were into more screaming music eight or so years ago, you had probably heard of Ohio’s post-hardcore prodigies Hawthorne Heights taking the world by storm with the “screamo” trend, brought on by their 2004 album entitled The Silence in Black and White. In 2007, tragedy struck when the band’s guitarist/screamer Casey Calvert passed away. From that year on, it seemed that Hawthorne Heights fell off the face of the earth, leaving Victory Records for another label, and then creating its own label for some EPs. Zero, the band’s latest full-length effort (which is a concept album, of all things), will be released next week via Red Entertainment, and it shows that the Ohio scene heartthrobs are back with a vengeance.

Zero – which follows the story of a dystopian world – begins with “Skeletons Remain (Transmission 1),” a short acoustic intro with vocals slightly faded for a more eerie, dramatic effect. A short minute later, the band drops into a rather pop-punk styled beat on “Memories of Misery.” Singer/guitarist JT Woodruff’s singing hasn’t changed much in terms of his sound, but his skill and range has gotten progressively better, and I am rather impressed at this point. The screams, though missed for most of this album, are replaced by more interesting guitar riffs and even catchier choruses than ever.

The only real blemish on this album comes on the third track, “Darkside.” They are trying to impress a “bad boy” attitude, and the sound just doesn’t work for them. I was left feeling rather awkward hearing Woodruff singing, “All night long/Come on, baby” behind a rather generic hard rock riff. Luckily, “Spark” brings back the more pop-punk feel the band has adopted, with a guitar riff reminiscent of Jimmy Eat World at times. The happy pop-punk sound fits Woodruff’s voice rather well, in my opinion, and I’m thankful this direction is given some attention on Zero. The title track comes next, full of shouting choruses and interesting riffs that one would expect more from the likes of Sick Puppies or Flyleaf, but is executed well.

The next track, “Anywhere But Here,” begins with a riff that is almost copy-pasted from The Wonder Years, but they make up for the lack of originality with a ridiculously catchy chorus. Once again, I’m thankful for the pop-punk direction taken on this album. The next song, an acoustic anthem titled “Hollow Hearts Unite,” is decently constructed except for the whinier high notes in the chorus seeming a bit awkward to my ears. The album then brings an interlude with an emergency broadcast, eliciting a feeling of looming terror not unlike something from Lostprophets or Comeback Kid’s Broadcasting.

The first single from this album, “Golden Parachutes,” is actually a lower note on the album compared to some of the other tracks, and probably could’ve been replaced as the single by “Spark” or “Zero,” The next few tracks don’t carry much as far as interesting parts, but a song of note would be “Strangers.” It carries lyrical value not too far away from the likes of Coldplay, which put my mind in knots. This band had quite a few interesting ideas for this album, and to be honest, I’m quite impressed by this point. Then, after a few tracks, just as I’m content with the change, they bring you right back into the thick of their old sound with the second single and 14th track, “Taken by the Dark.” Here, we get a glimpse at more of guitarist Micah Carli’s screams, which carry much more backbone to them than Calvert’s did. This song is definitely the highlight of this album, for it shows just how much this band has grown over the years.

Not many bands can shun a stereotype bestowed on them, but Hawthorne Heights is doing a fantastic job with getting rid of the “screamo” stigma bestowed on them. Though there are several kinks in the chain, Zero is proving to be another emphatic step forward for Hawthorne Heights, and one that I hope can bring them back into the spotlight.

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By Christopher Urban ~ Me Gusta Reviews