November: the time of year when Madam X rules the roost with her iron fist. Meaning, this month I’m taking my orders from her, and the first order of business is this Hank Von Hell record. Name ring a bell? It does if you were (or for some reason still are) a Turbonegro fan. Von Hell, then known as Hank Von Helvete, sang for those punky fellows for seventeen years and six records, then stepped away for a variety of reasons both sordid and domestic. His short-lived band, Doctor Midnight & the Mercy Cult, put out an album in 2011, and then he faded away again until now, where we are presented with Egomania. And if you know anything about Turbonegro or Hank, you know that we are not in this for the feels or brvtality, but rather a good old-fashioned sleazy party. Will it work, or will the man’s egomania get in the way?
My first thought as the title track comes on is “vanilla ice cream.” Because this is some bland hard rock. But I won’t dwell on this song, because you know what? There’s nine more nearly the same. It’s not that it’s Road Warrior bad: it’s just, well, nondescript. The verses are boring, there’s no hook, and the “whoa-oh-oh-oh, Egomania!” singalong chorus is pure 80s Poisoncore. In fact, the whole album is kind of almost fun in a guilty, prepubescent boy kind of way, most likely due to the incredibly silly lyrics and song subjects. “Pretty Decent Exposure” is about walking around with your dingly-dangly hanging out — “I don’t give a shit it’s hanging out.” “Blood” seems to be a fist-pumping anthem about, er, menstruation — “I’m coming like a flood, cause I smell blood.” Ew. “Bum to Bum,” easily the most awkward song title here, has a chorus that grinds “Bum to bum, it’s the beat of my drum, that’s right.” Um, okay. I don’t really understand what Hank is getting at here — or in most of the songs, in fact, but I’m not even inclined to figure it out.
Lyrics aside, this is a solid, well-heeled group of musicians. No, I don’t know who they are, and from their appearance in the videos I sure as hell don’t want to, but they’ve got the licks and chops, they’re tight, all the instruments sound great and the production is more than competent. Of course, listening to the songs and seeing this sleazy band in the “Bum to Bum” video made me head straight down to the local STD clinic for a swab. Luckily, Egomania isn’t as uncomfortable as the old metal Q-tip, but it’s still not something I find myself wanting to experience more than I already have.
Inane lyrics and slutty band aside, the real reason Hank Von Hell fails on Egomania is the songs. For the most part we’re dealt generic hair metal that isn’t nearly as catchy as the clap. He tries hard, but the best song, album closer “Adios (Where’s My Sombrero)” is too little too late. It’s long, weirdly atmospheric at first, with strings, acoustic guitars, and such, and at the halfway mark becomes the heaviest, fastest song on the album. But the lyrics are unavoidable, even here: “Adios, my demon is dead, adios, no future ahead.” But if your demon is dead, wouldn’t you have a future ahead of you? And it closes with “Like the past, all the rivers run into the ocean. My ocean is the future, but me, I run into the desert, and it’s hot and filthy just like the past.” What the hell does any of this mean?
As is said at the beginning of the “Bum to Bum” video, “Nobody likes a chubby dude.” Hank Von Hell is doing his best to play up the “likable villain” role, but the songs just don’t work here. Admittedly, his vocals are better than I expected from a chubby dude in King Diamond makeup, and the musicianship is tight, but by-the-numbers hair metal with dumber-than-dumb lyrics don’t work for this particular adult. Good on Hank for getting back on that horse and going bum to bum with his artistic vision: it’s just not my vision – at least, not this version of me. Twelve-year-old me might write a different review.