This is a reprint. We shared our last interview with Hank with you and this one appears in the recent edition of Steel Notes Magazine, http://www.steelnotesmagazine.com where we also do some writing.
Like seeing Hank III play live, reviewing his records can be challenging. At the shows, he will play three, sometimes four sets of music, each a different style – ranging from country to hardcore thrash metal to doom metal to his own progeny, ‘hellbilly’ and maybe even back to country again. A mini-festival of his own, he presents concertgoers with four sounds, four feels, four genres and (the most challenging for the audience) four hours or more of playing each night.
While you listen, the songs absorb you and you feel what Hank feels.
It’s the same way with his records. In September 2011, he released four discs in one day, as three different LP packages. Each had its own sound and texture. This time around, He hit us with three discs, two on the country/hellbilly Brothers of the 4X4 and also a new venture – this time into punk with A Fiendish Threat.
On the latter, he uses a different singing voice and the song structures are reminiscent of the original punk of the seventies. A completely different sound is achieved here by using all acoustic instruments like the doghouse bass, played by Zach Shedd, and acoustic guitar (wired for distortion and fuzz added, of course) on the classic three chord compositions. Actually, it sounds like he throws a minor fourth chord in here and there.
A personal favorite is Different From the Rest, a true example of classic punk form led by strong vocals, with Hank singing and playing acoustic at the same time, as he did on the whole project, adding his own fast, furious drumming while mixing it. It’s not just the punk sound that runs throughout but also the attitude as stated in the lyrics and titles, as in There’s Another Road. Kicking off with a nice bit of slide-down-the-string feedback, the galloping drums on it hit like an AK47 and keep strafing the listener into Broke Jaw. Broke Jaw, in itself, is unlike any other punk song before it. It sticks to the standard form but here is where the hellbilly-style instrument line-up really hits home. After nailing the vocals and beat, the vocals end and what almost sounds like a steel guitar on acid fills the lead. No steel guitar is listed so it was either coaxed out of the fiddle, banjo, bass or acoustic, perhaps…but the effect is wild! It evokes Television’s Marquee Moon in the way the notes swirl around each other to a climax. It is an excellent song that would have blown the whole NYC set off its feet in 1977.
Similarly, on Watchin U Suffer we hear what could be gypsy fiddle crossed with police siren during instrumental breaks near the end. This also separates them from the rest of the punk genre because these instrumental forays add time to the standard two minute or three minute formula. Then again, it’s not 1977 anymore and this is a fresh new look at a genre people do not attempt that much anymore. Punk progressed but the original style was purest and this is old-school punk done in a completely new way.
The only problem with the next song, Face Down, is that it has to follow the tremendous instrumental at the end of Breakin Free, which you have to hear to believe.
In some ways, A Fiendish Threat is like a cross between Rocket To Russia and The White Album. There is so much to it, so much diversity. Listen to the opening of New Identity and you wonder if Roy Rogers ever took peyote. If that last line does not make sense, listen to the song. To imagine the first few notes going into what they do…well, it’s an adventure in listening.
It’s one thing to jazz up country by adding hardcore to it but boosting punk with a shot of country can only be a stroke of genius…because it actually works.
Billy Contreras comes on strong with the fiddle throughout but especially on Feel The Sting. He moves in and out of the melody, runs along with the vocal, creates tension and is simply extraordinary.
On Fight My Way – the title says it all. Always keeping lyrics relevant, this covers the angst-filled side of the emotions while packing a punch and even holds it’s own after the tremendous finish on Feel The Sting…but then Full On knocks you out of your seat with the sheer strength of the beat..
Daniel Mason, Hank’s main man banjo, is here but this listener could not place the sound of the banjo. A hellbillied-up banjo is liable to make a lot of noise so maybe he is hidden in the backbeat…we’ll have to listen closer.
Your Floor is more doom than punk. He sounds a lot like Ozzy on the vocals here. He must have snuck those Black Sabbath LPs back in after his mom threw them away. The second from last song, it doesn’t really seem to fit the rest, although it is a great song for the style it is. We return to the old school on the final selection and title track It, too, seems to drift to the Ozzy voice at times, as if he were turning the record in a new direction right at the end. With much highly-experimental music, often we don’t ‘get it’ the first time we listen because of the foreign aspect. It grows on us.
These songs grab you with the beat and then slowly insinuate themselves upon you as you notice new details here and there.
This is one of the most original ‘punk’ records to be released in many years.
To get a copy, buy one directly from Hank at http://www.hank3.com. While you are there check out the videos of his new stuff while you wait. Ours arrived in two days.
Don’t use another service when you can have it sent straight from Hank’s Haunted Ranch in Tennessee!
While you’re there, get a copy of Brothers of the 4X4 – we will be reviewing that one next month!