Change and progression have been requirements for respected rock bands (and art) for as long as there have been rock bands that want to be taken seriously. If you evaluate He Is Legend by this criteria only, they are one of the most successful bands of all time. Now He Is Legend are back with Few, their first album since Heavy Fruit in 2014.
He Is Legend came onto the scene with the cheekily-titled 90125, an EP that mixed up math-y metalcore with a post-punk sensibility. Harsh vocals mixed with some higher end elements that recalled At The Drive-In or Jawbreaker. This EP revealed the band’s special sauce as vocalist Schuylar Croom, a man with a stylistic range similar to someone like Mike Patton of Faith No More or Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan, though Croom didn’t sound much like those singers, per se. He was like them in that he had a big bag of tricks. This basic sound was expanded on I Am Hollywood. Things began to change on Suck Out The Poison, as hinted by the cover art. The band introduced a gloomy southern element, a sound that would gradually grow to encompass their entire vibe, even as they wrote meat-and-potatoes hard rock songs.
By the time the band released Heavy Fruit, they were virtually unrecognizable as the group that released 90125. Yet, for many listeners and fans, this was not necessarily a good thing. Gone were the intricate riffs and vocal stylings; they had been replaced by a careful songcraft and a consistent vocal performance that found the band with a more accessible rock sound, a well-trod stylistic route followed by bands like Metallica and Mastodon. But was anyone even listening? With the popularity of rock continuing on a downward march is there even such a thing as a sellout record anymore? He Is Legend have always followed their own muse, so it seems reasonable to give the benefit of the doubt that this is a purely artistic decision, but it was hard to get excited about Strange Fruit, whether it was an old-fashioned “sell out” or not.
This same question hovers over Few, an album unlikely to win over anyone who felt let down by Strange Fruit. It is firmly rooted in the 90s, with a sound that at times invokes Alice In Chains or the post Type O Negative goth rock of A Pale Horse Named Death. There are, undoubtedly, some cool elements to Few. There is the air of gloom Gothic that permeates the proceedings but is in no way doom, enhanced by songs like “The Vampyre,” a song that sounds like it could be an Alice In Chains outtake (in a good way) and lyrics like “your sentence is silver” from “Silent Gold.”
Few opens with two of its best songs, “Air Raid,” one of the albums most aggressive and exhilarating tunes, and “Sand,” powered by a driving riff and a typically strong vocal performance. The vocals continue to be the dominant element of the band, especially on fun songs like the bluesy stomper “Fritz The Dog,” despite the strength of the guitar playing and riffs. But it’s a struggle to hear much that hasn’t already been done, and in an environment where there is more music than a person can listen to, it’s hard to know why listeners would spend their time here.
Whether the innovation is gone for good is impossible to say. Time will tell.