The perception of He Is Legend has always been rather clear-cut, something which can seem rare for a band over fifteen years into their career. They’ve always been easiest to compare to a band like Maylene And The Sons Of Disaster in their co-opting of southern rock and hard rock within their brand of hardcore, all without quite ever crossing into the wild, white-hot firebrand territory of Every Time I Die doing effectively the same thing. To many, that’s been seen as a reason to simply write them off, but that seems largely unfair, especially when He Is Legend have maintained a fairly high, steady watermark of quality. 2009’s It Hates You can be seen as something of a benchmark release, but even with the controversy that came from the changes in Schuylar Croom’s vocal style early on, there’s been a pretty steady run of releases delivered from He Is Legend basically since the start. Even if, in the genre context, nothing jumps off the page quite as much as some of their contemporaries, there’s always been a lot to like with this band.
With that being said though, it doesn’t feel as though ‘underrated’ is the right term to describe He Is Legend. As mentioned earlier, they’ve got a very clear image that’s prevailed pretty much throughout their career, and even at the pinnacles of their success, the reception they’ve gained usually feels like a pretty accurate correlation to their quality, namely as a band whose reach doesn’t typically extend outside of their audience but can keep them sated regardless. But that subsequently puts White Bat in an interesting position, not only as He Is Legend’s best album in years but one with a wider crossover potential that’s a lot easier to see than some of their previous efforts. It’s not even as if this is radically different to the band’s core formula; the same musical building blocks are used here, but it simply feels a lot bigger and more imposing, and that really does pay off here.
From a wider perspective though, it still leaves White Bat grounded in He Is Legend’s typical problem of being comparable to other bands without reaching that same level, especially when it comes early on with the southern-fried riff machines of the title track and Burn All Your Rock Records which incorporate liberal portions of Every Time I Die into the equation, or Eye Teeth’s glances at Cancer Bats-style hardcore punk that highlights even further how similar Croom’s vocals can be to Liam Cormier’s. But really, that’s an issue on principle alone, as He Is Legend are able to deliver off the back of the sound with vibrancy and volatility. The title track is a prime example with its jerky metal-crash of an opening guitar line, and moved over to the ploughing grooves of Bent and Boogiewoman or the Alice In Chains-esque creep of Uncanny Valley, the southern rock portion of He Is Legend’s sound is arguably even more integral than many of their contemporaries. The band make good use of that too, amping up the production to produce the monolithic guitar tone that’s the constant source of drive and hazy, fermenting darkness. It’s a similar aesthetic style to what Whitechapel pulled off with The Valley earlier this year, and becomes all the more appropriate with He Is Legend’s inspiration from Michell McNamara’s true crime novel I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, and how it renders so well as the backdrop to murders in the underbelly of California. An unfortunately disjointed narrative is the sole sticking point in a compelling listen, as He Is Legend are able to bring so much power and dread to their material that lets its claws dig even deeper in.
In all honesty, it’s just a consistently solid album through and through, never flying drastically off the rails and, while rarely having the unique shifts or presence of the acts in its proximity, executing its vision with flair that feels excellently grounded and realised. In other words, it’s a He Is Legend album, but there’s enough of a push forward made with White Bat to at least get some distance outside of the box their material has typically resided in, especially with a level of quality that always feels high. It mightn’t be a game-changer, but White Bat is the sort of unfailingly robust listen that’s without question paying attention to, especially when He Is Legend make the results as enjoyable as they are.
For fans of: Every Time I Die, Cancer Bats, Maylene And The Sons Of Disaster
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘White Bat’ by He Is Legend is released on 28th June on Spinefarm Records.