We're definitely in a hellbilly state of mind this week, after just spinning an excellent new record from Canadian horror rockers The Creepshow (be sure to check out the review here), now followed by a brand new album from hard-drinking, heavy-rocking “outlaw psycho punk” trio The Koffin Kats. Hailing from Detroit and legendary for no-holds-barred live performances, frontman/bassist Vic Victor launched the band with guitarist Tommy Koffin ten years ago, and it seems the Kats have been relentlessly touring ever since. Tommy has since moved on to other projects, and the trio now features guitarist EZ Ian Jarrell and drummer Eric "E Ball" Walls on their seventh studio release Born of the Motor. The record hits the streets today, and I was stoked to give it a listen.
While the Kats are known for rip-roaring tunes about vampires, aliens, babes and booze, Motor takes a sharp turn to focus on the horrors of everyday life. If you've been keeping up with the news, you know that the band's home town of Detroit has been hit with serious financial hardship lately, and many songs on this record address the anxieties and frustrations that the band's Motor City brothers and sisters face every day. But the record is also a very personal celebration of the city's tough blue-collar spirit, reflected in the unstoppable energy the band brings to their own creative pursuits. “Life is hard… life is uncertain... that’s something everyone understands,” says Victor. “It’s not where you start or where you end up, it’s how you live your life in between that matters.”
Musically, Born of the Motor could also be the band's biggest departure, with muscular but smooth production and mastering by Adam Ayan (whose prior work includes albums by Nirvana, Rolling Stones and Foo Fighters), and sporting a darker, more ominous tone. Victor writes from a place of personal pain in "All of Me is Gone" and "Twist Apart," weaves tales of a desperate city in the ominous "The Collector" and the pessimistic mid-tempo anthem "Giving Blood," and sings of doomed romance in "This Heart (Stays on Ice)" and "Under a Blue Sky." Possibly darkest of all, the haunting melody of "Goodbye Blues" and the down-tempo waltz of "It’s Real” both accompany lyrics that could either refer to a dreamlike future... or a deadly way out. That being said, this record isn't entirely a moody exercise, as evidenced in the rowdy title track, with its speedy rhythm line married to high-speed chugs and gang shouts, the dramatic vocal harmonies that make way for the burning low chords of "Devil Tales," the bright and optimistic tone of "The Team” and the serene acoustic ballad "Gone to See the World."
Photo © Danielle Elizabeth
While there's a greater lyrical emphasis on the darkness of everyday life than you might be expecting from a rowdy, hard-drinking hellbilly unit, Born of the Motor is no less musically powerful than the Kats' more Halloween-appropriate fare; it's also a sincere and compelling piece of work that finds the band on a more introspective path, and demonstrates how well their style can suit a more serious dramatic context – while still rocking the house down.
The Koffin Kats are on the road again (as they so often are), but you can still catch them on their Fall tour, which continues through mid-November. Visit their official site for a list of dates and venues.