by Shaina Vriezelaar (@brimstonebutch)
Satan Smile, the first full-album release by New Haven, CT skate-rock trio Hellrazor, (formerly Dead Wives) kicks in the door, with a record strongly deserving of its title. Hellrazor, featuring Michael Falcone on guitar/vocals, Jon Hartlett on drums, and Julian Wahlberg on bass, slashes your eardrums with an intense, heathen playfulness. If the aim of this record was to mimic the effect of Satan smiling or just to make Satan himself smile, the band has succeeded.
Satan Smile has a kind of immediate cobbled-together mosaic quality from the tracks and the construction-paper album art. There’s a familiar, swaggering punchiness to many of the tracks that is at once grungy and poppy, given its lineage—the frontman, Michael Falcone, is the gut-busting drummer for Speedy Ortiz—here re-contextualized within new-school garage band sound and honed to a fuzzy bite. The record is presented awash in the lo-fi buzz of bad-boy rock-n-roll; it is at times more akin to noise rock, at others jangly and groovy, but never unbecoming of the aggression present in some of the tracks. In much the same way, there’s a nostalgic heaviness present across Hellrazor’s seminal album that feels reminiscent of any other musician who’s smashed a guitar on stage; give them an axe, and they can swing it.
Hellrazor shines through pretty much every track on Satan Smile. There’s a fair amount of variation from track to track; there’s the powerful yet sarcastic punk vehicle (“Sad Satan”), versus the Unwound-style tracks sporting angularity of tempo and tone (“A Cool Mill,” “Hale Bopp”), and the groove-defined high school Pavement-worship anthems (“Nova,” “Vegas,” “Sputnik 6”) versus the mumbling and dissonant Melvin-inspired outliers (“Ouija Bot,” “Crab”). The record itself is peppered with variegated songwriting making for a Technicolor release that continually feels interesting and engaging. For my favorite track, there’s a bit of a toss-up between the hefty pop-punk melodies and lines of “Vegas,” which ends in grungy, blown-out Electric Wizard-style random feedback swells and riffs, and “Covered in Shit,” the album’s preview single with a dejected, desert rock stagger along with front-loaded overdrive and some kind of inexplicable out-there coolness. Satan Smile feels like a collection of standalone works, which, to be honest, can’t even come across as a criticism, given how rallying and great each individual track is.
Satan Smile is good. Period. There’s comforting local-legend grandness to the ways in which Hellrazor’s songwriting and guitar tones all come together. If Satan Smile were a person, they’d be the cool older brother of a significant other, clad in a sick leather jacket and beating up rowdy skinheads at basement punk shows. For me, this is an album to herald in good vibes for the first several months of 2017, and I’d recommend it to anybody else wanting the same.