Blending elements of arena rock, prog and metal, Heroso confounds expectations in the very best of ways.
The album opener, called “Act 1,” begins as a tensile, mainstream rocker, marked by a searching riff courtesy of Brian Rohr and a vocal from Dave Rumer that shifts effortlessly from distant rumination to a close confrontational grit. Rohr’s guitar stays up front, creating a serrated atmosphere, even as Rumer moves across this broad emotional spectrum. Still, there is little here we haven’t heard before, from Journey to Foreigner to REO Speedwagon.
Drummer Jason Stratton then signals Heroso’s first exploration into a deeper complexity with an interesting change in tempo. From this shifting soundscape, Heroso emerges with an anthematic final segment, as Rumer and Rohr lock into an inspirational arc that brings “Never Alone” to a thrilling close.
Enjoy This makes a lot of promises in that initial track, and it keeps every one of them.
“Disturbed Destiny” begins with a thumping bass cadence from Amish Hermon, before Heroso catches a crisp groove. Rohr’s guitar stutters, creating an off-kilter feel, even as Rumer guides the narrative toward a tell-off moment. Ultimately, the track settles, however, into an approachable hook – becoming yet another example of the way Heroso sets up expectations, then exceeds them.
Similarly, “Ethan” boasts straight-line metal feel, at first. But Stratton’s rhythmic invention opens the door for another interesting exploration outside of those conventions. Even as Rumer sings with a bracing emotion, Rohr is able to build outward from the initial familiarity of his opening statement into something with deeper shadings. At the song’s mid-point, he joins in a thudding tandem riff with Hermon, only to burst out with a furious series of runs. The inventive arrangement slows for an acoustic segment, only to rev right back up into the brawny groove where it all began. The results are a tour de force moment, as Heroso makes its most complete statement of purpose so far.
“Let it Go,” with its brawny tandem guitar hook, and the tender-then-resilient “Hero” only underscore the band’s ease with a variety of textures and emotions.
“Act II” starts with an itchy guitar duel, and a bone-snapping bass signature, before Rumer brilliantly returns to the album’s opening theme. “Old School Nerds” presents as a goofy acoustic number, complete with a clunky bass-drum rhythm from Stratton, before Rumer pushes out front with a heartfelt, post-modern story of smart kids becoming cool in the technology age. Not exactly your typical guitar-band subject matter. “Little One,” a rumination on single parenthood, explores a similarly unusual narrative.
“What Is Going On?,” led by a hip contribution by Herman and the addition of a French horn by Megan Starrett, perfectly mirrors the wild ups and downs of a new relationship. They open up with a lightly swinging story of love at first sight, then Heroso completely changes direction — dashing off at a brain-freeze pace through a momentary tussle. But just that quickly, Rohr and Rumer go from singing with a tandem menace back down into the track’s initial sense of reverie. Until the next emotional dust up, when “What Is Going On?” undergoes another turbulent transformation. There is, in these moments, all of the musical gumption of the best prog rock to be found on Enjoy This, as Heroso display an uncanny ability to match the music with just-as-complex storylines.
“Never Alone” could be seen, at first, as something of a letdown after such an ambitious piece, as Rumer sings a straight-forward lyric about wanting to find a life-long love, with only the accompaniment of a lone acoustic guitar. But soon, a brisk electric joins the proceedings, building once again into a smart and catchy hook-filled final segment. “Never Alone” presents, one final time, everything that makes Heroso so interesting: Even until the end, it’s not exactly what you think it might be.