The concept of the rock opera is one that’s garnered a fair bit of familiarity in modern times primarily thanks to two albums – Green Day’s American Idiot and My Chemical Romance’s Welcome To The Black Parade. Both of those albums contain the two crucial elements that fit the criteria of a rock opera – a narrative arc that runs through the entire album, and unashamedly overblown songs that could easily make the transition to the theatre stage. It’s the second point in particular that brings the idea of a hardcore opera into contention, a genre that is primarily known for its intimacy in terms of musical reach and audience pull.
Having said that, to even attempt such a feat is commendable, and regardless of the quality of end product, Hellions deserve praise for at least managing to put out a conscious effort, especially for a band who are yet to properly break out of their native Australia. But judged as an actual body of work, it’s almost startling just how good Opera Oblivia is. It’s a concise, robust fusion of surging post-hardcore energy, bucketloads of theatrical charm and a genuinely unique flavour to fully stand out. And it really does stand out, especially within its genre – there hasn’t been a post-hardcore album this year as textured and nuanced as this.
Admittedly it does take a couple of listens for Opera Oblivia to truly click. Take opener 24 for example, a track that, on first impressions seems like a hotchpotch of pseudo-Panic! At The Disco twinkles, ridiculously over-the-top gang vocals, jazzy guitar noodling and sweeping melodies. But with each subsequent listen it makes more sense, and then what may be the true aim of a ‘hardcore opera’ becomes apparent – to show a much more colourful side to the genre than just the muscle-bound beatdowns that it’s regularly denigrated as. And though some heaviness is traded away, Hellions make up for it in the quantity of massive moments – the beefy gang singalong of Thresher direct from the Hot Water Music school of thought; the Vaudevillian dramatics of Lotus Eater; the slugging, whirlwind energy of Nightliner Rhapsody; it feels as though no reference point is off limits for Hellions on this album, but the end product comes out of the melting pot as an impressively succinct package.
Of course it’s the skills of the band members themselves that are responsible for this, managing to remain tight and focused throughout this album despite the numerous flairs and embellishments. It’s no mean feat, especially given the elasticity of their playing style, spanning melodic hardcore (Quality Of Life) through to flashy, widescreen alt-rock (25) and punked-up pop-rock (Thresher). What’s more, Hellions’ fingerprints are all over these tracks, meaning that despite the wide musical ground in which they cover, there’s a precision to these songs so that they never drift away from their own lane. It’s quite surprising how cohesive Opera Oblivia actually is, and how even though Hellions play around with baroque, pop-punk and even samba elements, their sound remains anchored to the same post-hardcore foundation. And with Dre Faivre at the helm, the impact is even greater thanks to his stirring vocal range, like on He Without Sin (Halation) or the cutting Nuestra Culpa.
The near-perfect ratio of each element is what makes Opera Oblivia the stunner it is. Layered and complex while still being completely accessible, it nudges Hellions’ upward trajectory to an even steeper angle, one that would suggest even greater things to come further down the line. But even so, for a band in their relatively formative years, Opera Oblivia is already the kind of wonderfully original release needed to put their name on the map, and with a bit of profile behind them, it’ll be a name you’ll be unable to escape.
For fans of: letlive., My Chemical Romance, A Day To Remember
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Opera Oblivia’ by Hellions is out now on UNFD.