Heights – Dead End (album)

Dead Ends cover Heights come to us courtesy of the county of Hertfordshire, famous mostly for containing a variety of Home County-esque landmarks alongside an alarming quantity of my family. None of those, however, play their own brand of metal and hardcore with epic overtones, as a press release assures me Heights do.

Look, let’s get one thing straight to start with. Heights have a really bland name and they’ve titled their debut album something so generic it’s almost impressive; the cover, too, is nice in that damningly unmemorable way. But get past that. Names aren’t their strong point, music is.

There’s a pattern that’s set soon after they shoot out of the starting gate with ‘We Live Alone…’: a drawn out intro explodes into a meaty hardcore/metal fusion characterised by roaring gruffvox, buckets of tremolo guitar and squeals, mid-pace drums and a rhythm section that feels solid, dependable and absolutely integral. Towards the end they kick in some piano; that juxtaposition of aggression and delicacy can ring false, but here it works.

With ‘Oceans’ you find thudding drums and heavy chugging guitars rushing at you, driven by singer Thom’s throaty roar; the pace of the song (and those rich octave chords in the chorus) make fertile ground for gang chants and group vocals: “Remember where we’ve been”, “Is this where life begins?”, “Find out who you really are”, “Remember my name”. The choral chants towards the end are a good fit, too.

Unfortunately by next track ‘The Lost and Alone’ that conceit of a gruffly sung lyric being repeated by the rest of the band in a constant refrain is already feeling a little tired, particularly when that line is “we’re never going home”. And by the time we reach ‘Endings’ you may be beginning to wonder if the band’s approach has already gotten a little too worn. The volume, the intensity, the mid-pace groove and the sharp, penetrating lead guitar sound are all still working nicely, but are there any more tricks they can pull out?

The answer is “yes”, as penultimate track ‘Dead Ends’ demonstrates. Thom roars “I watched you change with the seasons” whilst the two guitarists play off each other’s guitar lines, with some strings/synth adding a nice bit of extra texture to the song. It returns to the core of what makes Heights work: stomping, introspective but tough metal/HxC with additional layers of sonic texture draped over the top, sanding down their rough edges to produce something that feels fragile even whilst it roars and blasts around you.

What I like most about Heights, and like them I do, is that they’re playing energetic yet mid-pace music that’s unpretentious but sincere and honest, exploring introspective themes but without hamming them up to melodramatic excess as so many bands are prone to do. They’re doing what’s been done before, sure, and we can argue back and forth about how avoidable that is, but what’s important is that Heights are doing it in a way that feels balanced and measured but doesn’t give off a killer whiff of cynical deliberateness.

Maybe that’s just me projecting; the band are pretty young so it could mean they’re just doing what they love or it could mean that they’re slavishly imitating their influences. It is, in all honesty, hard to say, but what matters is that nothing about this record feels cynical, and that the music is good, and therefore I’m happy to recommend it.

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