Prior to the release of their own debut, The Neon Handshake
, it must have been a bittersweet experience for Hell Is for Heroes to watch kindred spirits Hundred Reasons crack the UK Top 40, securing their critical position with a superb debut album. On one hand, it no doubt gave them hope that their own brand of intelligent, impassioned, post-emo breast beating could enjoy a similar fate. But on the other, they probably worried they were a crucial twelve months behind the zeitgeist. With two of Symposium in their ranks, they surely know how important timing can be in rock. Inevitably, The Neon Handshake
is an extremely accomplished album that lurks a little too self-consciously in the shadow of Ideas Above Our Station
. Songs such as "Out of Sight" and "Cut Down" follow the British post-hardcore model to the letter, lurching and screaming in all the familiar places. Far more affecting are the songs that strive to reach some kind of maturity. "Disconnected" is slight and subtle, while the singles "I Can Climb Mountains" and the particularly excellent "Night Vision" show an encouraging ability to layer musical and emotional tension. It's not quite the startling album that was hoped for then, but far worse debuts have led on to earth-shattering careers. --Ian Watson
Fact: Hell is For Heroes are a great British hope for 2003 and it isn't an exaggeration to state that The Neon Handshake is one of the most eagerly awaited debuts from a British band. Recorded over a year ago, the decision was made to hold off its release until the band felt ready. But as anyone who has heard the singles "Night Vision", "I Can Climb Mountains" and "You Drove Me To It", will vouch, it is well worth the wait.
To understand the significance of The Neon Handshake it's necessary to go back to the beginning of the Hell Is For Heroes history. It starts with the sad denouement of their precursor, exuberant pop-punkers Symposium, whose promising future was cut short thanks to record label hassles. As the band members went their separate ways, it seemed as if UK homegrown talent had taken another kick in the teeth.
Guitarist Will McGonagle and drummer Joe Birch then went on to form Hell is For Heroes. Shouldering expectations heavier than that faced by a 'new' band, the London quintet concentrated on honing their sound and blowing crowds away with stunning live sets rather than rush a release. As it happens, it turned out to be the right decision.
Listening to the climactic, empowering riffs that run amok through its pulsating forty-two minutes, The Neon Handshake is a rush of blood to the head. It's the feeling of a band that has seen the shit come down and survived, kicking and screaming, to tell the tale. From the breathless chuggery of "You Drove Me To It" to the driving riffage of "Out Of Sight", Hell is For Heroes have a seemingly endless stockpile of slamming riffs that are intense without suffocating. HIFH's statement is simple enough: you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it. Look no further than the spirited optimism of "I Can Climb Mountains", a chest-beating anthem of Herculean proportions.
Brimming with confidence, The Neon Handshake isn't just the most inspired, upbeat record you'll hear this year, it's one of the best British rock albums to ever hit the shelves. --Catherine Chambers
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