(High Roller 2016)
It’s not an overstatement to say that Michigan’s Demon Bitch have captured the imaginations of the cognoscenti of the heavy metal underground, particularly in Europe. The accolades and superlatives have streamed in for the Motor City madmen’s debut album, ‘Hellfriends,’ at an astonishing rate. Essentially a reshuffling of the band White Magician (four of whose members also rock this band), Demon Bitch have taken the underworld by storm. So let’s see what all the fuss is about, shall we?
Those who like their true metal polished, pristine and technically perfect should move right along because ‘Hellfriends’ is not for you. This thing sounds like a tenth-generation cassette dub of a demo recorded in a single late-night alcohol-fueled take on an underground American metal band’s boombox in their parents’ wood-paneled basement rec room in 1983. I am utterly convinced that this was by design, and Demon Bitch are crazy like a fox that way. You see, the swampy tones and murky production values meld brilliantly with the pure, old-school, heavy/speed metal attack, like they were meant to go together. The package is topped off by primitive handpainted artwork of what appears to be the band’s namesake, a humorless female clad in animal furs presumably in one of the ice caves featured in the tune “Beneath the Ice Caves;” plus band photos (some of which appear to have been taken on the Juke Joint stage at Reggie’s in Chicago) made to look like they have been run through an old-fashioned Xerox machine about a dozen times. From sonics to packaging to songwriting to performances, ‘Hellfriends’ comes across like a long-forgotten US power/speed metal demo recording from 30+ years ago, lost in time, decaying in the elements, and collecting dust in a shoebox until now. The hell of it, of course, is that ‘Hellfriends’ is a brand-new release recorded by a young band of today. Holy timewarp, Batman.
‘Hellfriends’ is a short album, clocking in at a hair under 36 minutes and featuring just a half dozen proper tunes, as well as an 89-second gentle instrumental interlude “A Passage to the Other Side.” Those who haunt the obscure underground will find much to their liking here. The lightning-speed guitarwork, in particular, is spectacular, incorporating bits of pieces of everything from Omen to Agent Steel to Savage Grace to Attacker to early Fates Warning. At least until the more subdued, prog-influenced closer “The Microdome,” the guitars on this disc are like a smorgasbord of everything that made ‘80s U.S. power/speed metal great, and they’re performed with a kind of naïve charm that splendidly channels the wide-eyed, youthful excitement of the era. All of that said, if there’s a dealbreaker to be found on ‘Hellfriends,’ it lies in the vocals of Logon Saton. You could call them dramatic. You could call them unhinged. You could call them completely out-of-control, batshit crazy, and you would be right. Logon sounds a bit like the three-way lovechild of Geddy Lee, John Arch and Gerrit P. Mutz (Sacred Steel/Battleroar) after replacing his hyperactivity medication with a supersized crack rock. The dude’s vocal lines are all over the place, all the time. I applaud the band for remaining uncompromisingly true to their artistic vision, but man sometimes there’s a price to be paid for walking that path. By that, I mean the musical ideas and those magnificent guitars could be accessible to a much larger audience if they weren’t buried in an intentionally low-fi sound job and obscured by a polarizing vocal performance that many will hate or worse, not take seriously.
I guess all of this is a long-winded way of saying that Demon Bitch are not, and do not want to be, a band for everybody. ‘Hellfriends’ is not an album for everybody. It’s the kind of album that will attract fanatical devotion from a tiny subset of the metal public, and apathy or outright derision from many others. As for me, I fall somewhere in the middle. Much as ‘Hellfriends’ makes me gnash my teeth in frustration sometimes, it also leaves me in gobsmacked, slackjawed admiration at others (“Devil Love,” “Warning from the Sky,” “Hellfriends”). There’s magic at work here. If these lads can harness it – more importantly, if they want to harness it – then Demon Bitch could become a once-in-a-generation kind of special band. They’re not there yet, but ‘Hellfriends’ is a lot of fun for what it is, and is truly unique even in today’s oversaturated throwback metal marketplace.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~