Remember the Suicide Machines? The Detroit ska-punks spent 15 years (1991 to 2006) releasing albums of quirky punk anthems, playing numerous Vans Warped shows, and desperately trying to follow NOFX, Lagwagon, et al., into the "big time." They didn't quite make it, and the whole experience left a bitter taste in singer Jay Navarro's mouth. By his own admission, he decided he was done with music altogether when the band dissolved. But bitterness has a strange way of hanging around, of growing and mutating until there's a ball of seething fury in your gut bursting to get out. And for Navarro, the outlet for said anger is Hellmouth.
Fueled by the sense of desperation that's engulfing this entire city — not to mention a blatant disdain for organized religion and pretty much anyone who holds a position of power — Hellmouth's ultimate message is one of utter hopelessness. Apparently, they're not being carried along on President Obama's positivity train. In fact, the words printed on the inside of the CD sleeve basically say it all: "Nothing will be alright. You are all fucked."
Despite the heavy riffing, tough, Hellmouth can very much be defined as a punk rock band. The anti-authority themes alone attest to that. Some will call them hardcore and others, especially those with a taste for overcomplicated genre labels, will call them metalcore or crossover. But make no mistake about it: They're totally punk in the same way that bands like Discharge and Neurosis are punk.
The disc is split into two "sides," just like the vinyl days of yore. One "side" is titled Apocalypse, the other Blasphemy. And the songs on each side pretty much stick to those themes, from the face-melting "Pick a Coffin" on Apocalypse to the hellish lecture that is "The Masters Have Poisoned the Slaves" on Blasphemy. Cheery stuff, to be sure!
But it's still actually hard to pick out specific tracks here because each song blends into the next, all in a haze of inhuman screams, courtesy of Navarro, and lightning-fast playing from his likeminded bandmates. One thing can be said for sure, though — the Suicide Machines, Mark II, this is not. This is angry music for angry people. And sadly or not, that's probably exactly what Detroit needs right now.
Hellmouth plays Friday, March 13, at Small's, 10399 Conant, Hamtramck; 313-873-1117. With the Transfer and Spick of It All.
Brett Callwood writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.