NOTE: Josh's review is exactly the same as his review of last year's Fall release of The End Is Not The End. The final paragraph has been added to address the retail packaging release of the album to stores for March, 2009.
After numerous delays, lots of confusion, and seemingly endless waiting, Gotee Records has finally decided to release House of Heroes' third national recording, The End Is Not the End (a pretty ironic title, at this point). Well, we have finally reached the end (Of the wait, that is). The only question is: Was it worth it?
The answer is an emphatic "yes." House of Heroes has not only crafted one of the most intricate, yet catchiest pieces of music to come along in years, but they have also written what is a compelling World War II parallel designed to make us reexamine preexisting notions on faith, God, and country. The End Is Not the End is a lush undertaking… thought-provoking, engaging, and at times, even epic.
To compare and contrast is futile. It has been three years since we last heard from the Columbus, Ohio residents, and since then, they have gained a member in Jared Rigsby, and the famous three-piece now functions as four. Their self-titled record is great in its own right, but after listening to The End Is Not the End, it plays out more like an opening act… a sign of things to come. Whereas that album was straight up rock, their sophomore effort is sophisticated, yet somehow still frenzied, rock 'n roll. It is a hard brand to explain exactly, and is better just experienced.
House of Heroes is not hurt by the fact that all four members of the band have a fine set of pipes, either. All four men utilize their talents at every turn throughout this album. The End Is Not the End is filled with gang vocals, as well as layered backing vocals (Lesson learned: three back ups are better than one), giving the whole thing a more intense, engaging feel. And when those layered vocal parts were recorded, all four men gathered around one mic, rather than each one recording his part separately, in the vein of some of the late greats of rock 'n roll. It is a much more exhaustive way to record, but it gives the record a richer, more organic feel. It serves as a testament to the vocal integrity of House of Heroes that the whole thing sounds as tight as it does.
Indeed, musicianship is at the forefront throughout. House of Heroes' fusion of music and lyric is undeniable. And though most, if not all, of the record has a common World War II theme, each track has its own feel, and its own story to tell, with each one left open to interpretation. Pages and pages could be written dissecting and examining the well-orchestrated dance of music and lyric on The End Is Not the End. As an example, "In the Valley of the Dying Sun" tells the story of Jacob's wrestling match with God, with the music shifting and changing as the opposing sides prepare to do battle. You feel everything: Jacob's resistance, the Angel's insistence, the ensuing war, and the resolution - all in the course of just over four-and-a-half minutes. Strange, to say the least, but epic, in every sense of the word.
That song never directly references the Second World War, but found within are some blatant references to war and violence in our day and age. Indeed, Jacob's struggle parallels every man's struggle to put violence behind him and accept a life of submission to a higher power. Thus, the song can take on many different connotations, but within the context of this record, it appears to speak of modern war. With lyrics such as "I'm thinking of You when I kill a good man, to keep myself from being killed by him," and "Son…Your days are numbered. Sow the seeds you will. But I am the Reaper," it's pretty hard not to hear the modern slant.
But The End Is Not the End is a deep and complex puzzle. On the very next track, "Code Name: Raven," the story is told of a French spy in WWII whose land and livelihood have been invaded. While the song's predecessor was all about the defeat of a man's will, this track displays the building up of a man's courage, and the lengths he will go to defend what he knows to be good. "There's no virtue in killing a man, but neither is there virtue in being afraid to stand." There is enough food for thought here to keep you intrigued and pondering well after the record has finished playing.
"By Your Side" is a more stripped down, acoustic ballad that tells the story of two brothers that are both drafted, and their camaraderie through thick and thin. It is a love, we find out, that transcends death, "And when you see the face of your Maker, you don't have to be ashamed. He knows the promises we made." But we are also reminded three tracks later that just as we are called to love our brothers, we are to love our enemies as well. "Baby's a Red" is a fast, hook-driven song about a man's undying love for…a communist? And though it is mostly just played for fun ("Baby's a Red! The feds said lock her in lead. She's red, but I love her. Hammer and Sickle on my mind."), it actually affords itself some note-worthy observations ("Oh, Red, if the bombs fall on our lands, then our politics won't matter. Only that I loved you until death.")
And on and on it goes. War and peace, the pros and the cons, the left and right, and middleman… Pages and pages could be written, but it is best that you discover the treasures found herein on your own. The End Is Not the End is a delicately conceived, intricately developed, masterfully executed hour of music that somehow still has mass appeal. You would be hard pressed to find a person that won't be singing along by the second chorus of "If," "Baby's a Red," or "Dangerous." But this accessibility never compromises the artistic integrity of the record. The fusion of music and written word of this caliber is so rare these days, but House of Heroes has succeeded where most have tried and failed. It's a monumental release, and an important moment in CCM history. Why Gotee has tossed it to the side for so long is a mystery; because when it comes down to it, the diehards will be ecstatic, the unaware will be won over, and the apathetic will have cause to double take. Look for it on a lot of industry top tens at year's end. But you heard it here first… The End Is Not the End is easily the best record of 2008.
**Included on this physical release are two new acoustic tracks at the end of the project, "New Moon" and "Ghost." Admittedly, they don't really fit within the canon of the rest of the release (or its sound), but they are still a treat to listen to. "New Moon" is catchy and memorable, with a simple drum pattern and 'round-the-campfire flair. "Ghost" has a bit of a classic, stripped-down country, Ryan Adams feel to it, telling the story of a man regretful of poor decisions made throughout his life. For fans who already own The End Is Not the End, wait for the iTunes release of these two tracks on April 7th. But for those hearing this album for the first time, these two new songs are a welcomed addition to an already stellar release.- Review date: 9/10/08, Updated Review date: 3/1/09, written by Josh Taylor
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