It’s clear enough by now that Hellions want to do things entirely their own way. As if their UK festival run this summer through all kinds of small, out-the-way places wasn’t a good enough starting block, it’s a fact that’s pretty much been underlined by their entire collection of musical output up to now. They could have easily strived to be yet another by-the-books metalcore band to fill another spot on UNFD’s roster and found success that way, but mixing post-hardcore with glittery, My Chemical Romance-style pop-rock and even some elements of hip-hop has proven much more fruitful, and subsequently made them a far more enticing presence. Of course, a superb standard of quality can’t be avoided, and with the scope and sheer exuberance of 2016’s Opera Oblivia that proved to be their highest high to date, Hellions currently stand as one of modern post-hardcore’s most vibrant and enterprising bands.
But even then, Rue has some significant heavy lifting to do to propel Hellions to the next phase of their career, not only smoothing out some of Opera Oblivia’s rougher edges, but also exploring the duality of human compassion and indifference, and weaving in references to their previous albums, and tying all that together in a vaguely circus-inspired framework. It’s ambitious to say the least, and if there’s a real flaw to be found, it’s that the latter point is a bit too far from being realised with just two interludes. Other than that though, Rue hits every mark it needs to; it’s definitely a refinement in how these ideas are condensed without shaving off too much of that quintessential Hellions flair, and for as much of a driving mechanism as positivity is behind this album, the unshakable hooks and colourful, textured melodies are exactly what’s needed for a really great crystallisation of Hellions at their best.
Really, it’s that instrumentation that shines the brightest here, and how there’s barely a solitary moment that’s not an absolute riot to listen. There’s such a sharp, almost funk-inspired sense of groove on the likes of X (Mwah) and Get Up!, and Dre Faivre’s scattershot half-raps not only ride these flows pretty effortlessly, but are the source of raggedness that offsets the cleaner production for a greater sense of balance. The comparisons to My Chemical Romance have been made before – and indeed, this very album has already been placed in the shadow of The Black Parade – but in the same way that Gerard Way’s manic energy felt all the more electric when pitted against the sweeping, theatrical backing, Faivre achieves the same effect here. A track like Smile might be incredibly polished with its synth warbles and twinkles over well-rounded melodies, but it never feels like a producer-mandated decision, particularly when the throaty vocals only proceed to tear through it anyway.
It feels even more necessary given the role that positivity and appreciation plays, even on the most basic level of getting swept up in the atmosphere. Given that this is a Hellions album though, it’s rarely that simple, and the exploration of the most basic human dichotomy of good and evil on the likes of the title track addressing the 2016 Orlando shooting carry a weight that, even then, the band are able to twist and turn to unearth even more layers and complexities. It’s hardly a coincidence that The Lotus operates as a direct sequel to Opera Oblivia’s Lotus Eater and its chastising of widespread apathy, and when that’s built on with tracks like Odyssey and Get Up! – which are, in turn, blessed with ludicrously catchy hooks to boot – it’s a more dense tapestry that the initial poppy presentation would betray. As well as the widely prolific gang choruses, there’s such an overriding sense of joy with an intelligent presentation that actually does so much more for it.
And that’s why Hellions are content with doing their own thing. In no way, shape or form would this sort of incisive, explorative material even be conceived by a more straightforward band, and yet Rue is able to do it while keeping such a tight, focused eye on melody and precision in a way that most other bands really need to start taking notes from. This is one of the best cases of smart yet accessible, mainstream-friendly rock music in years, with something to offer no matter how deeply you want to dig in. This is what more pop-rock and post-hardcore should strive to be; both genres would be so much better they were.
For fans of: My Chemical Romance, Trophy Eyes, The Used
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Rue’ by Hellions is released on 19th October on UNFD.