Retrospective: His Hero Is Gone’s “Monuments to Thieves”

According to my best estimates, I manage to mention His Hero Is Gone once about every three weeks here on the Decibel site. That’s not going to change, because the Memphis-based crust band created music of such massive scale, such emotional heft, and such sonic force that no one has really come close since. File next to Assück as far as life-changing extreme music goes: the themes, the lyrics, the sincerity that His Hero Is Gone laid down in their short four years with us—a sound they absolutely mastered on 1997’s perfect Monuments to Thieves album—proved that extreme music could be more than we all thought it could be.

Today, let’s look back on Monuments to Thieves, released on Prank Records, and offer our respect, our gratitude, our undying admiration for the greatest 25 minutes and 15 seconds of apocalyptic, grinding, d-beat-fueled crust and hardcore that there ever was.

Like Weeds” opens the album perfectly: after about 18 seconds of sludge, the band goes quiet for 33 seconds of contemplation, then one of the greatest drum fills in crust history, followed by a few seconds of chaos, then the moment I love so much: the quick three-count on the sticks at around 1:05, barely heard beyond all the noise, the band barreling forth together after an incredible opening minute, everything just on. This song is astounding once it gets going, the drummer scrambling to catch up (and I’ll say this now and get it out of the way: the drumming on this album is incredible, one of the most bottled-lightning, energetic performances I’ve ever heard laid to tape), everything clicking here to an alarming degree.

They follow up that incredible opener with the ominous bass intro to the title track, a massive sludge beast, a drop-dead classic tune for the dispossessed, something I more or less have stuck in my head at some point during every single day of my life. Song rules, period. The track basically just builds and builds until 1:42, at which point it explodes until it ends 11 seconds later, His Hero Is Gone once again foregoing traditional song structure to just let the songs do what they need to do. Here, it does what it needs to do perfectly.

Paranoia Secured” fits more into 21 seconds than most bands do in their goddamn career, but it never sounds over-hurried or frantic. This song is everything it needs to be, but it’s not an exercise in goofy economy. It’s just perfect.

Carry On” captures the vibe that His Hero Is Gone had nailed down so perfectly by this point, the song just sounding nervous, the band taking endtime crust and Voivodian chords and drum work to create the perfect His Hero Is Gone sound here, the melodies coming in at 1:20 to drive the point home. Now is a good time to mention the album’s production (handled by Dan Rathbun), as it punctuates that high-strung energy perfectly. Rarely have I heard a drum sound as incredible as this: the bass drum and ride cymbal bell tones are things of beauty on this album.

Cavities” reminds us that HHIG do sludge too, and oh man do they ever do it well, the chilling melodies and superb drumming carrying this song to the furthest reaches of your paranoid, cop-distrusting, survivalist brain, just like it does to mine. HHIG specialized in anthems for the downtrodden; here’s one of their best.

Chain of Command” is huge, the album’s longest track at 3:33. I always loved that huge snare fill to nowhere at 1:04, just before things take a turn for the solemn, the big climax just around the corner to bring us back to the squat, sweaty and fearful—but prepared—for the dark, dark future ahead.

Headless / Heartless” starts off with a whole bunch of memorable drum fills, as many great HHIG songs do, before dropping into a sludge riff, one more memorable fill, then one of the album’s greatest d-beat sections, the drummer (I LOVE THIS GUY) just racing behind the beat, throwing in ride flourishes for fun, not that there’s any fun allowed in this bleak hellscape of brilliant crust. Sludge riff ends it all off, the band just dragging our bodies to the finish line, tossing us to the side, and lumbering away. And we’re only halfway through the album.

Hinges” contains more awesome drum stick count-ins (color me weird, but I absolutely love it when HHIG did that) and d-beat crust proclamations, while “Sin & Vice” has some of the chilling melodies that the band did so well, as well as the manic drumming that was so incredibly on point here. “The Mess” is no-frills HHIG, while “Disease of Ease” slows things down for another trip through the quicksand, giving us plenty of time to marvel at the absolutely perfect production sound (Kurt Ballou, eat your heart out).

Under Watchful Eyes” is a late-album highlight, the song starting ominously, for all of two seconds until the thrash-crust kicks in. Then the band pulls things back again to hit that incredibly heavy (seriously, to see them play live around this time was just astounding) HHIG mid-tempo crushing sludge. “Stacks” follows it up with a massively hard-hitting song that keeps the tempo slow, until it starts going crazy fast, that is, and the band spirals down a final 30 seconds that could keep even the most diehard grindcore fan happy.

The Unwanted Child” ends things off with a fairly long song by HHIG standards, clocking in at 2:42. By the time the band hits painfully low and agonizingly slow for the last minute, man, you’re glad the album isn’t any longer. The final three seconds just seal the deal.

What His Hero Is Gone created on Monuments to Thieves may never be recreated. It’s more than an album: it’s a feeling. The emotion behind the songs—behind every note—is so obvious; the sonic landscape they created with their songwriting is vivid and real; the production delivers it all with a sound that just reaches into the listener’s soul. To call it “crust” is such a soft sell; this is art of Neurosis magnitude, albeit delivered in a very different, and far more concise, package. Bands that play music with this much feeling often can’t last, and sometimes it’s good they don’t. The members of His Hero Is Gone have gone on to play in other great bands, and sometimes I feel that it’s a relief this band doesn’t exist in this form anymore: albums like Monuments to Thieves are so good, so real, so meaningful, they are actually—literally—painful to listen to. Sometimes I file it away and don’t touch it for years, precisely because it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard in my life.