Djent-Flavour Dickloving Blues
Certain strains of music demand a crowd, or at least a few rowdy friends. This can get to the point where the activity of listening at home alone becomes absurd and embarrassing. On the heavy side, punk tends toward the communal, while heavy metal drifts toward solitude. Aggressive musicians often work around these distinctions. Metal bands craft music that is engaging enough for concertgoers to enjoy together alone—from solitary headbanging to full on mosh pits. Punk bands tailor their lyrics, themes, and compositions to reward close, repeated listens. While there are outliers, for the most part, versatility is key. One should want to buy the album and see the show.
So what to make of The Hell? Hailing from Watford, England, The Hell is composed of a few masked-and-aliased core members “plus thirty or so other cunts”—according to the band’s Facebook page. On Groovehammer, their second full-length, The Hell kick up a racket that seems designed almost exclusively for consumption at sweat-drenched music venues. For example, as of this writing, The Hell’s Facebook cover photo shows a man in an inflatable penis costume crowd-surfing onto smiling, inflatable hammer-wielding fans.
This might seem a little contrived, but what does Groovehammer actually sound like? Try imagining the obnoxious, in-your-face spirit of Mclusky chopped and combined with the communal whirlwind of Pg.99, and allowed to soak in heavy Djent oil for several weeks. Midtempo baritones lumber and groove in syncopated lockstep with the kick drum somewhere in the background, while a horde of cheeky vocalists throw down the gauntlet with gleefully crude and confrontational lyrics.
The problem is that the music and the vocals lack synergy. It sounds like The Hell went to Djent Warehouse, bought an album’s worth of riffs, and laid down vocals on top of them like rappers. There are some focused songs, like catchy riff-juggernaut “Check This Out,” but for the most part, there’s something very showtune-ish about the songs on Groovehammer. Songs like “Everybody Dies” and “We Love Dicks” seem composed for the stage, with call-and-response vocals, soliloquys, and timely pauses.
And in this sense, Groovehammer is bizarrely self-aware. From far away, it might seem like The Hell don’t give a fuck, but closer listening reveals a carefully curated offensiveness. The homoerotic lyrics and do-what-you-want messages are carefully calibrated to push the envelope to within a specific zone at the boundary of good and bad taste. It smacks of calculation, and perhaps cynicism. Could The Hell just be an engineered attempt to cash in at festivals?
Listening to Groovehammer is like watching footage of a party on YouTube instead of attending it. The slick Djent pouring from the speakers is as anonymous as the members of the band. The lyrics and concepts are lightweight fare, carefully designed to titillate and shock. The Hell and Groovehammer just lack a beating heart. This is not to say that The Hell have sold out, but it’s hard to say what their motivations are. If The Hell are playing near you, by all means, go see them. Perhaps the live show is where their passion lives. If you’re looking for good, heavy music to listen to however, Groovehammer is not the best use of your time.