Run to the hills! Schoolyard Heroes are coming to eat your flesh! Huh? If you’re scratching your head about now, know that my warning has a double meaning. Of course, once you’ve finally heard Schoolyard Heroes’ second album, Fantastic Wounds, all will become clear. The four member Seattle band features an original blend of styles that most would consider specious upon initial observation, but wonder how it didn’t happen before upon review. Honestly, what would you say if I told you to listen to a band who mixed musical theater, the operatic metal of Bruce Dickinson’s Iron Maiden, the feminine yelps of a Karen O. or Gwen Stefani, the driving prog guitars of At the Drive-In or their offshoot, the Mars Volta and a penchant for zombie horror flick imagery, not unlike the Misfits. You’d think me insane, and maybe that’s exactly what makes the Schoolyard Heroes so good, they’re just plain cuckoo.
Exhibit A: The band’s morbid fixations.
Songs on the band’s debut, The Funeral Sciences included such great titles as “Bury the Tooth of the Hydra and a Skeleton Army Will Arise,” “All-You-Can-Eat Cancer,” “Blood-Spattered Sundress,” “Sincerely Yours, Jonathan Harken,” and the obvious “Dawn of the Dead.” The new album’s song titles are just as creepily clever: “Serial Killers Know How to Party,” “They Live,” “Battlestar Anorexia,” and “Funeral Parlour Tricks.” Lyrics on both albums abound with horror movie references and ghoulish allusions. Think of the Schoolyard Heroes as a super punk metal version of Oingo Boingo and you wouldn’t be too far off the mark.
Exhibit B: Operatic Drama
Calling Ryann Donnellya lead singer or frontwoman does not do her nearly enough justice. Simply listening to her on CD, she seems to leap out of the speakers at you with her “n-your-face” presence, challenging anyone not to listen to her while she screams. Songs like “Panic in the Year Zero” seem to combine Omar Rodriguez’ energetic guitars with, let’s just say, if Bruce Dickinson had a sex change and made a punk album. At times, you can almost hear the chorus of “Run to the Hills” in your head. Donnelly’s background growing up with musical theater definitely has a, if not conscious, then definitely happily subconscious effect on the presentation. When Donnelly sings in “Serial Killers Know How to Party,” “Your screams could raise the dead,” she could be referring to herself.
Exhibit C: Seattle bred
Whether it’s the overcast skies most of the year, the looming shadows of Amazon or Microsoft, or the extraordinary amounts of milk ingested in lattes, the Seattle scene has its share of “affected” bands. Schoolyard Heroes follows in the footsteps of many Emerald City natives before them, but carve a niche all their own. The group is quick to name influences such as fellow natives the Blood Brothers and Minus the Bear, and Fantastic Wounds might have enough power to lift the Heroes above the permanent indie status enjoyed by their idols. A great double bill in Seattle could include not only the Heroes but also Bloodhag, a thrash metal band that scream about science fiction novels. They would just need a band with either an obsession with mystery or romance and host a festival called “Hang on to Your Genre.”
Exhibit D: Image
Just as Karen O. and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are the poster children for image conscious New York bands, Donnelly and co. could be the college age Northwest equivalent. The band members seem to abhor the trendy looks their peers seem to adopt and prefer to eschew trend for personal style. The press photo of the band can be described as a group of young super villains who have come to infiltrate Hogwart’s, Donnelly in furs and pearls, the rest of the band, Steve Bonnell, Jonah Bergman and Brian Turner in school jackets and sweaters. Don’t be surprised if Schoolyard Heroes leap to a major or at least a larger indie label after the success of Fantastic Wounds.
Ladies and gentlemen of the record buying jury, I rest my case.
Iron Maiden- The Number of the Beast
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs- Fever to Tell
At the Drive-In- Relationship of Command