Let's face it, the psychobilly genre has a pretty rigid set of conventions, and there are hundreds of bands out there still following them pretty closely, fusing old school twelve-bar blues, rock 'n' shuffle and Cramps-style punk attitude with lyrics about surfing vampires, muscle-car-driving werewolves and zombies in love. Among the bands still kicking today, only a handful maintain a strong presence without making a few amendments to the playbook, and Nekromantix is one of those rare few. Maybe it's founder Kim Nekroman's trademark coffin-shaped bass, or the band's talent for making quick and effortless transitions between bouncy Halloween rock and thundering moshpit fodder... whatever their magic formula, they've managed to make it work for over two decades, and fans still dig 'em like a fresh grave. They've just rolled out their eighth studio release What Happens in Hell, Stays in Hell, and we've got the full review on the flipside...
Nekroman had already established a solid cult following in his native Denmark and was just beginning to take his act to the US when he caught the attention of Tim Armstrong – leader of legendary punk unit Rancid – who signed them to his own label Hellcat Records in 2001. Their first record under that banner, Return of the Loving Dead, was one of a few key releases that transformed psychobilly from a largely European phenomenon into an international music movement, and the band has continued to keep that evil spirit alive, along with their peers like Tiger Army, Horrorpops, Guana Batz and The Young Werewolves.
For this release, Nekroman – Mohawk-sporting lead singer and coffin beater – hit the studio with an all-new lineup, including guitarist Franc, who took over from Pete Belair after their previous album Life is a Grave and I Dig It, and drummer Lux, who replaces the late Andy DeMize. Despite the new blood, the Nekromantix sound hasn't changed radically – although there is an extra shot of high-octane juice to a few of these songs, and it goes instantly to your head the moment you hear the opening punk pounder (and first single) "Bats in My Pants." The energy level stays high even in mid-tempo tracks like "NekroTastic Extasy," but a darker, moodier edge also emerges in "Sleepwalker with a Gun," which features some gritty chugging rhythms and lower-range vocals.
As you can probably expect from the title, "Demon Speed" is a high-rolling frantic number, whipped up by Kim's sneering double-tracked lead vocal and turbulent riffage from Franc. The shuffling "Crazy" brings the energy down a notch, but benefits from a warm, burnished guitar sound. The title track is a fairly solid punk rebel anthem, however lacking the aggressive punch it needs to become a classic; but the real treat comes with "I Kissed a Ghoul." As silly as it sounds, this necrophiliac jab at the Katy Perry hit is actually one of the best tracks on the album; instead of going over the top with it, Kim and company opted for a darkly comic, brooding tale of illicit corpse-love.
"Once We Were Lovers" is not the melancholy ballad its title implies, instead zipping along with a tightly-synched guitar and drum pattern; "Chasing Ghosts" is gruff and rowdy, featuring some talk-box filtered vocals, and the smooth, dusty ramble and lower voice range of "Love You Deadly" gives the ballad a criminally menacing undertone. "Bela Lugosi's Star" is another standout tune, a simple but musically urgent tale of a vampire's literally undying adoration for the horror superstar. "Monster Bait" is a fairly light and breezy cut, despite its more violent serial-killer lyrics, and "Triskaedekaphobia" (the medical term for fear of the number 13) closes the album with a sunset of pure vintage surf-rock.
While it's not as raw and ruthlessly aggressive as the band's breakout release Return of the Loving Dead, What Happens In Hell can still join ranks with Life is a Grave as a solid monster mash of pogo-jumping party punk and warm-sounding vintage rock. If you're a psychobilly junkie, these cats will definitely keep you sweet. As they say in the trade, the first one's free... so how's about a little taste, courtesy of the opening track "Bats in My Pants?"