Hank Williams III’s fascination with genres beyond his family’s pedigree has been one of his most intriguing features in his music. His iconic country legend grandfather and his southern rockstar father have risen to the spotlight for decades now, but Hank III, discontent with that settled vibe, has turned to rock, metal and punk to satiate his creative itches beyond the twang of country. A Fiendish Threat is Hank III’s newest foray into punk, and though it manages to make acoustic guitars fast and rhythmic, the rest of the album is a one-note trip that simply doesn’t know when enough’s enough.
A Fiendish Threat embraces the gatling-gun firing pace of punk with acoustic guitars taking the place of electric guitars. It gives the songs a nice sense of distinction, almost a down-homey kind of vibe. The repeated chords of the acoustic guitar call back to Kyle Gass of Tenacious D, of all people, adding a rougher aesthetic to the furious power chords. Some songs charge ahead, no questions asked, like the maniacally quick “Broke Jaw” and the even faster “Face Down.” Hank III clearly has skill as far as punk endurance goes; it’s great to hear acoustic guitars get such revving motors in a punk atmosphere.
A Fiendish Threat makes two rather large mistakes, though. The first is that the songs are simply far too long for punk tracks. Looking back at some of the more prolific punk bands like The Clash and Black Flag, their songs were blisteringly paced, ending with a crack of thunder and shutting off instantly. They were brief, but energized shots of adrenaline that embodied a rebellious fervor that permeated the scene back then. While the 90’s tamed that speed a bit, bands like The Offspring were able to keep much of that intensity alive by keeping their songs concise. A Fiendish Threat doesn’t embrace that straight-ahead mentality. The tracks very rarely drop below three minutes, with some reaching marks of more than six minutes. While the endurance that Hank III and his band have is noticeable, and brief moments of straight-ahead punk ideals are apparent in the shorter tracks like “Full On”, the songs drag on considerably longer than preferred, making them lose their shine quickly.
The second mistake could be attributed to the first, but still is worth noting: the songs never evolve. The philosophy behind punk tracks is that the actual musicianship is more limited than something like metal or prog rock. Rapid-fire power chords usurp the thrones of intricate guitar solos, bass pedal marathons beat out polyrhythms; punk prided itself on a simplistic structure of speed over technicality. That’s why the songs were so short; no one would want to listen to that sense of simplicity over six minutes. It would get dry extremely quickly. But lo and behold, A Fiendish Threat falls square into that pitfall. The songs drag on and on without any interesting change in tone, rhythm or melody. Of the thirteen tracks on A Fiendish Threat, only two drop below three minutes. Each song’s vibe is the same throughout its length; no melody and no attentiveness to speak of. It just keeps going.
Hank III’s country croon is also nowhere to be found on A Fiendish Threat, instead replaced with a muffled megaphone-esque vocal style which grows thin barely a couple tracks in. The vocals never change during A Fiendish Threat; the monotone chants from Hank III try to harken back to the age of Black Flag and Minor Threat, but sound soulless and imitative. Hank himself just sounds so bored performing the vocals. Aside from the Ozzy Osbourne-esque snarl in “Your Floor,” the album’s punk vibe is hampered by poor vocal effects and an inescapable sense of monotony. It’s just an uninteresting record.
When it comes right down to it, Hank III should be commended for stepping outside of his comfort zone. You don’t hear of many country artists who are willing to do that. But that is the real irony of A Fiendish Threat: it stays in one place and never changes. It’s so devoid of musical topography; the tracks drag on far too long and the adrenaline shot can’t carry on for so many songs, especially when the songs are over five minutes most of the time. The vocal effects tend to grate more than intensify, the power chords very rarely mix things up, and the entire album just embraces simplicity instead of fundamentalism. When the tracks work and Hank III is able to rev the engines to higher gears, you’ll see something truly remarkable, but these moments are simply too infrequent to carry the album. Once again, Hank III is a real explorer in his genre; he’s proven that a country artist doesn’t have to stick to country music and can actually make great music beyond that established genre. However, A Fiendish Threat pales in comparison to his past works and just ends up being dull. Just pass on A Fiendish Threat.
Categories: Music review