Metal is blessed with bands that have unparalleled musical ability, bands that write intricate, elegant, and at times breathtaking compositions. Indeed, metal is blessed with bands that spend hours deep in creative reflection, striving to produce a piece of art that captivates listeners and subtly expresses some universal higher truth.
Gehennah is not one of those bands.
In fact, go ahead and slip on that biker vest and toss your Opeth CDs out the window. This self-proclaimed ‘street metal’ quartet has been churning out sleazeball blackened speed metal from Sweden since 1992, with albums like 1995 debut Hardrocker and 1997’s Decibel Rebel the sonic brethren of Venom, Midnight, and, of course, the late Mr. Kilmister himself. After 2003’s 10 Years of Fucked up Behaviour EP, the band went on a recording hiatus until 2014’s Metal Police EP, whose re-release on Metal Blade last year (with some re-recordings of older tracks to boot) ended up being one of my favorite albums of the style in 2015. Too Loud to Live, Too Drunk to Die is the band’s fourth full-length album and first since 1997. So rev your Harley, pound two shots of whiskey,1 and cover up that bicep tattoo of your ex-wife’s name: Gehennah are here to show us what street metal is all about!
Progression and maturity? Fuck no! Too Loud shows Gehennah sticking to their sound faithfully and brimming with just as much piss n’ vinegar (not to mention alcohol) as they’ve always been nearly embalmed by. Expect a 37-minute slew of galloping drumming, spittle-flinging rasps courtesy of one ‘Mr. Violence,’ and blackened ’80s-inspired riffs in the vein of Motörhead and the punkier ditties of Impaled Nazarene. But unlike the recent Baphomet’s Blood album in this style, Gehennah are less concerned with Satan and more concerned with commemorating their sleazy lifestyle and unabashed love of all things heavy metal. Take “Scumbag,” which invokes Screaming for Vengeance-era Priest with its cruising main riff, before Mr. V spews out “I’m the guy who fucks a girl’s sister and never calls her back!” The hilariously tongue-in-cheek lyrics2 continue with early highlight “Life Metal Must Die,” with lines like “I don’t wanna hear a fucking flute in a heavy metal song!” and gang shouts declaring “Life metal must die!” in the chorus. I can’t remember the last time a record made me laugh like this.
All of this would be moot, however, if the performances didn’t stack up. Fortunately, not only does Señor Violence have a great passionate and maniacal conviction in his rasps, but guitarist ‘Rob Stringburner’ has a knack for writing terrific riffs as well. Opener “Still the Elite” bounces along with liquor-fueled swagger, while “Gehennah Will Destroy Your Life” features an outright thrashy assault that gives way to some stellar NWoBHM-style melodies. The man’s leads are great as well, cropping up on nearly all 13 tracks and providing some delightful classic metal axework that remains grounded and un-flashy enough to fit the music perfectly.
Sadly, just as the inevitable hangover always reminds us we can’t party forever, Too Loud has its lows as well. While most songs sound surprisingly fresh, there’s a few tracks on the second half that feel a bit generic and don’t do much for me; “Let’s Fall off the Wagon” and “Unholy and Unpleasant” being the biggest culprits. And while the unpolished, live-in-the-studio production is a good fit for this style, I can’t help but prefer the dubbed guitars of Metal Police, where the sound and tone had a bit more oomph to it. Ditto for the occasional gang vocals, with those in “Cause We’re a Street Metal Band” being particularly awkward-sounding.
Quibbles aside, Too Loud is still a blast of a record. For a band that’s been around since the early ’90s, Gehennah sound both inspired and refreshingly authentic—one gets the sense that the group actually lives the lifestyle they’re singing about. At the same time, moments like the bass solo and laughable lyrics of “We Stole Your Song” (“We wrote a number one hit, but none of the riffs!”) or the biker bar jaunt of apparently autobiographical closer “All of the Decadence, None of the Success” show the band in top form musically, and feel something like a spiritual tribute to the late Lemmy Kilmister… not to mention the party animal in all of us. So grab a shotglass and headbang along. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.