For a while there, I thought we had lost Hit The Lights to the pop-punk abyss. After garnering a dedicated fan base due to their first two contagious full-lengths, the Lima, Ohio quintet signed to a major label expecting to get their brand of catchy anthems out to a wider audience. Instead, they were on the Universal roster for about the length of a Kim Kardashian wedding. After that, HTL kind of disappeared until late 2011 when Razor & Tie announced they’d sign the group and released a 3-song teaser EP. Enlisting the services of producer Mike Sapone, the three tracks on the EP featured a change in direction for Hit The Lights and perked up some excitement for their late January release.
So, on their third length, Hit The Lights channels the ghosts of Valencia and The Graduate rather than continuing the poppier side they displayed on their previous full-lengths. They had no desire to join the current pop-punk movement and instead focused on improving as songwriters and musicians. The 11 track Invicta (which includes the three songs previewed in late 2011) features some of the band’s heaviest and most poignant work to date.
The foot-stomping anthem “Invincible” kicks off the album with resounding drums (courtesy of Nate Van Dame) echoing off the backing group “whoa-ohs.” It sets the tone of the album, as “Earthquake” and “Gravity” continue to amp up the power chords while vocalist Nick Thompson sings his heart out. These songs still contain Hit The Lights signature pop song but there’s an extra layer of grittiness and crunch that’ll set off a jolt throughout your body.
Really, everything on Invicta sounds bigger; there is a passion behind the music that wasn’t as prevalent on Skip School, Start Fights. Maybe the major label miscue led to the band’s coming of age, as songs like the soaring “Get To You” (home to one of the album’s best melodies) and the colossal “Float Through Me” (unleashing a chorus that’ll reverberate between your ears for days) shows off a band that has grown into their songwriting.
“All The Weight” is a pure adrenaline rush thanks to guitarists Omar Zehery and Kevin Mahoney, and “Take Control” is a nice throwback to Hit The Lights’ earlier song, which adds an atmospheric flare to the song’s intro. They also explore different tones and pop sensibilities on the somber “Faster Now” (co-written by Yellowcard’s Ryan Key) and pop-ballad “Should’ve Known.” These tempo changes will be hit or miss for most fans (the former drags on a bit too long), but the band should be commended for changing up their style a bit.
But the real knockout is album closer “Oh My God.” You know that jellyfish that graces the cover of Invicta? Well this track is kind of like that. The first two and a half minutes float on like the sea creature as Thompson’s croon fills the spacey ambiance. Then just like that the song strikes quickly, ending the album in fantastic, pulverizing fashion. It’s a fitting conclusion for the band’s most consistent and mature output to date.
At the end of the day, Hit The Lights doesn’t need AK-47 logos and a gimmicky slogan to sell their music; rather they’ll get by with the passion, intensity, and solid songwriting that’s oozing from Invicta. These Ohioans escaped the abyss and emerged with the definitive Hit The Lights album, one well worth the three-plus year wait.