REVIEW: HellBillys – Evil 7″ (1995)

Evil is the final 7” single by the original American psychobilly band HellBillys. Fronted by vocalist Barrie Evans, the band consists of Greg Langston (drums), Rick Tanner (bass), and Dan Watson (guitar, formerly of progressive thrash metal band Hexx).

A-side titular track Evil is an exhibition of rock’n’roll aggression packed full of chugging palm-muted guitar. Always on the verge of rupturing forth, Evil growls along before Dan Waton’s expressive guitar work cries out in an explosive solo.

Vocalist ‘Hell’ Barrie Evans snarls, drools and seethes his way through a violent (yet reserved) performance. The “squeakin’, squakin’, [and] squealin’” Barrie’s vocal delivery, while at times indecipherable, is delivered with a nuance rarely seen in psychobilly.

The Evil 7” is mixed in a manner atypical to rockabilly revivalist tent genres. Unlike the compressed records of their contemporaries, Evil’s heavy low-end brings so much warmth as to justify calling it a weed mix.

In an interview conducted by Jessica Thiringer for Razorcake issue #31 (2006), Barrie Evans (going under his childhood nickname Scary) speaks about his time living in Japan and how it inspired the creation of The Hellbillys;

“When I was living in Tokyo, I had just left Christ on Parade and I was kind of sick of rockabilly. A friend invited me to a rockabilly show and I was blown away by how everybody looked. It was the same sort of vibe you get now (2006), but much earlier. Everyone’s dressed in vintage everything. I met the guy from the Falcons and went to see his band a week later. It was fast and heavy and had a cool look. I knew what I wanted to do.”

B-side opener Captain Scarlet is a reworking of Barry Gray’s theme for Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons; a 1960s UK children’s show exploring themes of morality dualism, social-integration, and nuclear devastation through the lens of interplanetary war. Did I mention that it was made for children? And used puppets?

HellBillys’ punched up take on Captain Scarlet features Barrie Evans’s vocals taking over the predecessor’s horn and vibraphone melody. Paired alongside themes of blatant evil, Captain Scarlet invokes the disturbing nature of a truly indestructible being.

Evil closes fittingly with Murder; a somewhat typical psychobilly romp of bass/snare syncopation and whammy’d western guitar chords topped with lyrical themes of internalized voices and, well, murder. It’s a great track, while not particularly inventive, predates the rigidity of today’s psychobilly scene.

In the same interview with Jessica Thiringer, Barrie unknowingly utters a forewarning of psychobilly’s inevitable stagnation.

“There wasn’t a template to follow. I think the regimentation of rockabilly has a lot to do with Continental Restyling (French magazine)— not that it’s bad, but it sucked the originality out of it. It’s however you interpret rockabilly. Psycho has a lot of room to grow. Let’s hope psycho doesn’t get regimented. I’ve always had a huge pomp. People put so much emphasis into looking correct, but back in the punk days you’d put together some kind of non sequitur outfit. Rockabilly used to be the same way. During the ‘80s, Macy’s (department store) even had a line of clothes called ‘‘80s Rocker,’ inspired by the Stray Cats.”

‘Stealing’ from one’s predecessors is completely natural, dare I say should be encouraged. Nothing is completely new under the sun. But it’s about that time of year when we need revisit an oft-repeated T. S. Eliot’s quote;

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it came.”

Or, to quote the back of the record jacket:

“THE HELLBILLYS ARE INDESTRUCTIBLE. YOU ARE NOT. DO NOT TRY TO EMULATE THEM.”

Hellbillys – Evil 7″ (1995) front cover featuring antagonist Captain Black from Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons, looking like a middle-aged Lee Ving (FEAR).
“THE HELLBILLYS ARE INDESTRUCTIBLE. YOU ARE NOT. DO NOT TRY TO EMULATE THEM.”

For fans of: The Misfits, Nekromantix, Koffin Kats

Like Hellbillys? Give these a listen: Alien Blood Transfusion, Demented Are Go!, The Monarchs

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