Album Reviews

Hell Is For Heroes – The Neon Handshake

(Chrysalis) UK release date: 3 February 2003

Hell Is For Heroes - The Neon Handshake Hell Is For Heroes (now there’s an untruth) are being touted as Britain’s Next Big Rock/Metal Thing. This feeling should not be new to guitarist Will McGonagle and drummer Joe Birch, given that they were once members of Symposium, a band who in the mid-1990s were poised as pretenders to Ash‘s pop-punk crown. However, while Symposium were not quite good enough to make it count, after listening to their debut album, it is clear that Hell Is For Heroes really are.

The Neon Handshake, a phrase coined by Birch to describe the insincere culture of Los Angeles, was produced by Pelle Henricsson and Eskil Lovstrom, producers of what many regard to be the finest hardcore album ever – Swedish band Refused‘s 1998 opus, The Shape Of Punk To Come. Comparisons to The Refused are pertinent, especially in the gargantuan guitar riffs on Cut Down, You Drove Me To It and at the climax of Few Against Many.

However, there are even more (obscure) reference points than that, even if they are accidental rather than designed. Opener Five Kids Go is a dislocated, guitar-heavy number that sounds uncannily like Vent 414, the short-lived, Fugazi and Steve Albini inspired band that Miles Hunt formed on leaving The Wonderstuff. Out Of Sight, meanwhile, sees singer Justin Schlosberg expertly switching between emotive singing and laryngitis-inducing screaming, giving the track the feel of another Swedish band – Blindside, whose Silence album was one of the highlights of 2002.

All this is not meant to imply that The Neon Handshake is a simple case study in plagiarism. Rather, as with most good albums, it is a cleverly-assembled pastiche of influences that adds enough of the band’s own personality to take things forward that little bit. In the case of Hell Is For Heroes, this is achieved through moments like the funky, pseudo-Latin percussion in Cut Down, the brooding intensity of the self-explanatory Slow Song, and in the glorious, adrenaline-fuelled choruses of I Can Climb Mountains and You Drove Me To It. In fact, the latter two are so strong that if they had been done by an American punk or so-called nu-metal band, they would doubtless be on interminable rotation on MTV2.

Hell Is For Heroes take their band name from a 1962 war film starring a then fairly unknown Steve McQueen. The next year he made The Great Escape and the rest, as they say, is history. The Neon Handshake is worthy enough that Hell Is For Heroes should not have to wait until next year for success. Their time is now.

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