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Psychobilly. It’s like the lovable hipster uncle of the punk
rock family, sitting atop a stack of old Cramps records and watching old
black-and-white monster mashes while talking your ear off about the warm analog
appeal of a plucked upright double bass. Still, despite the accessible pop
sensibility and distinctive fashion sense of the psychobilly phenomenon as a
whole, it feels like the scene has stuttered into a bit of a slump lately. Now
that psychobilly godfathers Nekromantix have cruised back into town with
flattop haircuts intact and new album in hand, can they manage to refresh what
many have dismissed has a hopelessly moribund musical style?
Four years in the making and their fourth outing on Rancid
founder Tim Armstrong’s Hellcat label, WHAT HAPPENS IN HELL, STAYS IN HELL
continues the Nekromantix habit of drastic personnel-juggling between albums.
Lead guitarist Troy Destroy and drummer Andrew Martinez have been replaced by
Franc and Lux respectively, and in the latter, the band has secured a petite
powerhouse to drive the beat (check out the YouTube videos of her thundering
flawlessly along to Slayer and Megadeth tracks while wearing six-inch stiletto
The production of WHAT HAPPENS acknowledges this with the
drums coaxed to a heavier prominence than in the mix of prior albums. Opening
track “Bats in My Pants” kicks things off with bandleader Kim Nekroman growling
over some speedy riffing by Franc, a quickness soon topped by the awesomely
breakneck “Demonspeed.” Shimmery surf-guitar chords on “Sleepwalker With A
Gun,” a whistled intro on “Love You Deadly” and the all-instrumental workout of
“Triskaedekaphobia” demonstrate that Nekro and co. are, to their credit, intent
on further bulging psychobilly’s boundaries.
While strong as a whole, WHAT HAPPENS does lack an obvious
lead single—the kind of instantly memorable anthem with which Nekromantix’s
excellent 2007 album LIFE IS A GRAVE…AND I DIG IT was positively swollen. The
band’s double-time fretwork and MUNSTERS-level song-title puns (e.g. “I Kissed
a Ghoul” and “MonsterBait”) haven’t changed much since they last checked in,
and a cast of atomic supermen, somnambulating sharpshooters and some devilishly
alluring ladies enliven the tunes’ storylines. And while nobody listens to
Nekromantix expecting Dylanesque poetical profundities, it’s now pretty much a
definite that lead songwriter Nekroman has plateaued in terms of his lyrics.
Granting that English is not Danish Demon’s mother tongue, a number of songs on
the album are shackled with some seriously lazy couplets (“I tried to calm her
down, but she was mad as f**k/She said she hoped I dropped dead or got hit by a
truck,” promises “I Kissed a Ghoul”).
WHAT HAPPENS IN HELL, STAYS IN HELL is overall a welcome
return; it never threatens to reinvent the psychobilly wheel, but it comes with
enough new angles and tweaks to keep old fans grinning and the sock hop
shaking. We can only hope to hell that next time they don’t wait so long in
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