Haunt w/ Hell Fire
Tue, Sep 5, 2023 at 8pm
Burst Into Flame, the 2018 debut full-length from Church’s next project, Haunt, unfolded like a full-fledged novel. The musical palette was more diverse, ranging from pyrotechnic uptempo thrash to moody retro hard rock, the songwriting was sturdier, and the themes more mature.
To hear Church tell it, part of that shift had to do with taking cues from his many non-metal influences, including recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Zombies.
“The fantasy stuff, I love it, [but] I don’t relate to it,” Church says. “The Zombies? I relate to it. Love, loss, life, passion, death — those things bring me a lot closer to me than a sword and King Arthur.”
These sorts of timeless themes also play into Church’s latest album, If Icarus Could Fly, and companion EP, Mosaic Eyes, both released in March. Icarus opener “Run and Hide” is a call to transcend oppression (“Let’s take them down with force and break away these chains”) while Mosaic Vision’s gorgeously yearning title track is about rising up to embrace destiny (“Set a course to explore a world of my design”). In the hands of a lesser talent, topics like these could seem trite, a tired rehash of decades-old metal tropes. But Church’s expressive vocals — high and melodic but with a crucial hint of world-weary pathos — along with his fierce, inventive riffs (often harmonized in vintage Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden style), ornate solos (some played by bandmate John Tucker) and concise, catchy songwriting align to make his retro ideas feel uncannily vital. Rounding out the presentation are his warm, unfussy production values, which run counter to contemporary metal’s often sanitized feel. – Excerpt from Rolling Stone interview with Trevor Church
Lots of thrash bands do their best to sound retro, but Hell Fire manage to sound classic. The San Francisco-based four-piece doesn’t come off like they’re attempting to emulate the bands of the early-to-mid-’80s so much as their chuggy, infectious sound channels the things that made that era exciting in the first place. More so, Hell Fire walk the thin line that is speed metal, adding extra momentum to classic heavy metal riffs rather than going hard on punk’s aggression and misanthropy, which puts them in the same category as rare acts like Raven and Exciter.
The title track from the band’s upcoming new album, Mania, is a perfect example of this approach. The song is mid-paced for thrash but fast for traditional heavy metal; it has all the chugging stomp of a band like Anthrax, but still goes hard on the gravitas and grandiosity of early Maiden and Saxon. The result is traditional heavy metal with a kick in the ass, that doesn’t need to add on a lot of canned angst to get heads banging and fists pumping.
In the words of guitarist/vocalist Jake Nunn, “Thematically, everything on the album comes from personal experiences…From the highs of partying together out here in Oakland, or the nostalgia of being a kid learning Zeppelin on a beat up guitar, to the extreme lows of isolation, personal trauma, and mental illness. Sonically we want our records to sound like you’re standing in front of the stage at a show. The power of Marshall stacks in front of your face, drums at your ear level, thunder of the bass and feeling the presence of the room.”