Hawthorne Heights returns to road that's carried band through death, near demise 

After grinding it out for years like many successful young acts, Hawthorne Heights endured and emerged from significant lineup changes and a name swap to score a record deal.

The then-quintet's 2004 debut, "The Silence in Black and White," became Victory Records' biggest seller ever, outdistancing trailblazing screamo peers like Taking Back Sunday, Thursday and Atreyu. The album went platinum, and 2006's follow-up, "If Only You Were Lonely," was on its way, having already clocked gold when the members announced " six months into the cycle " their intent to break the contract.

Hawthorne Heights claimed Victory and its head, Tony Brummel, practiced accounting practices that were fraudulent and "severely damaged the band's reputation and relationship with their fans." After Victory countersued, the group recorded one more album for the label, but tragedy struck on the second day of a return tour when guitarist Casey Calvert died from an interaction between a painkiller prescribed post-root canal and his anti-anxiety and depression drugs. The band was devastated.

"I think having all that success right off the bat, in many ways makes you take it for granted," said drummer Eron Bucciarelli. "Which is unfortunate, because it makes dealing with the bad times a lot harder on you. A lot of us went through emotional crises during our lawsuit and after we lost Casey. Everything sort of compounded. We almost had a nervous breakdown."

They vowed never to replace Calvert, so front man JT Woodruff and lead guitarist Micah Carli picked up the slack. Last year, almost two years to the day they announced a planned departure from Victory on MySpace, Hawthorne Heights released "Fragile Future."

Without its signature screamer, the four members transitioned to a more nuanced, melodic rock sound that's still plenty edgy. The disc gave the group some of its best reviews, although Bucciarelli said, "We've never been critics' darlings."

Sales paled compared to previous releases " another blow for the still-reeling band.

Soldiering forward, Hawthorne Heights signed a deal with Wind-Up records, and spent the entire year working on its fourth album, "Skeletons," due in 2010. On the road for the first time since last fall, the band will give fans at Friday's show a sneak peak by distributing a free download coupon of the new track "Unforgivable," and slipping "End of the Underground" into the set.

"Skeletons" continues to diversify the sound as the group attempts to part with its screamo past and forge a style that's musically richer and a bit more timeless.

"We wanted to make something that stood up. We wanted to expand our sound a lot, and write a record that has lots of hooks and depth to it," Bucciarelli said. "One of the songs has sort of a '60s vibe to it. It's Beach Boys-ish, almost. The other one is sort of Johnny Cash sounding, mixed with our sound. We really tried to create different textures on this album, so each song stands out from the song before it."

The tough road has transported a nowhere band from Dayton, Ohio, to playing before 5,000 people and halfway back to obscurity. Current crowds are smaller and the act's ambitions have scaled back, but they haven't quit. Bucciarelli said they appreciate any accomplishment even more.

"It feels like we're sort of starting over and, in turn, we're playing some venues we haven't played since we first started," he said. "It's really cool to have that sort of fresh start. A lot of bands don't get that opportunity. I guess time will tell if it actually pans out and we can regain some of our former success, but you can't focus on the negative and dwell on that on top of everything else that we've had happen to us. We would literally go insane."

Hawthorne Heights with  Just Surrender, Monty Are I and more perform at 7 p.m. Friday at The Conservatory, 8911 N. Western. "Chris Parker

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