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Concert Reviews

REVIEW – Hells Fire Sinners Turn Up The Heat at The Shrunken Head – 1/13/18

Hells Fire Sinners stoked the flames at The Shrunken Head...

On a cold Saturday evening, the traffic was sparse as I made my way to The Shrunken Head to review Hells Fire Sinners‘ first show since October 2017.

As I entered the venue, there were just six patrons cozied-up to the bar, with the band members clustered around two tables along a wall opposite the stage. There were merely thirty minutes until the first of three bands were to begin, which made me wonder if I was to be treated to music played to a mostly empty room.

The band must have had the same thoughts, as they moved the start time back one hour. By the time Mobile Home took the stage to kickoff the evening’s music, a good-sized crowd filled the floor between bar and stage. More people trickled-in as Bloodthirsty Virgins played their set to an enthusiastic crowd.

Alan Downing lets loose…

By now, it was almost the witching hour as the clock tolled twelve bells. HFS climbed on stage, doing a quick tune of their instruments. Alan Downing (vocals/guitar) addressed the assembled throng, saying “We’re Hells Fire Sinners. Don’t leave.” And with that simple statement, they were off and running.

Opening with The Coming Of The Damned, the single guitar and plaintive vocals of Downing matched the late hour and the weather outside rather beautifully. The slower tempo built a head of steam throughout the number, with the driving beat having an almost dirge-like quality to it.

They turned the pace up a notch with No One Now, with the midtempo swamp rock sounds washing over the quickly warming audience. Sensing the mood, they launched into the fast-paced Take My Life. The tune carried a sound reminiscent of the Ramones, with it being short, sweet and too-the-point.

The jungle beat of Aaron Piatt’s drums announced Peel My Skin Away, much to the delight of the crowd. Capturing the punk rock vibe straight out of late-1970’s New York City, the band rocked the number to its fullest. Andrew Neff played his bass as a lead guitar, ala the late Cliff Burton, adding wonderful texture to the song.

Clocking-in at under two minutes, the fast-paced punk rock of Sew My Mouth Shut pleasingly assaulted our collective craniums. The melodic vocal work by Downing juxtaposed nicely with Misfits-like vibe of the number, keeping the audience enthralled.

Andrew Neff gets in the pocket…

Next, they slowed the pace with funeral pace of Livin’ Lies, with Downing’s vocals reminding one of the late Layne Staley’s work with Alice In Chains. The tempo kept the figurative fires smoldering as the temperature outside continued to drop into the single digits.

Neff kicked the next tune off with some heavy bass fuzz, with the driving beat of Godless Self picking up speed and channeling an underground Palm Desert sound. Scott Stevens added understated, yet very relevant flourishes with his guitar on the song.

The midtempo heaviness of Sunday October 9th 2016 thumped its way through the venue, reverberating throughout the upturned faces. Downing’s melodic vocals carried an almost melancholy vibe, as he wondered “Why I feel this way?”

Predict Your Sorrow turned up the pace next, with the band capturing shades of an Urge Overkill sound, but played faster.

Aaron Piatt tattoos a jungle beat…

The standout song from the evening became an audience participation number, as the band launched into No Tomorrow. They played it a bit faster and with more emotion than the recorded version, with the crowd joining in on the chorus. With arms upraised, they loudly sang right along with the band, generating smiles all around the room.

Paying homage to spaghetti westerns, the honkeytonk sound of Eyes Go Black was next. Downing captured the feel of the late Waylon Jennings with his vocal work, his plaintive cry carrying evoking an emotional response from the crowd.

The penultimate number of the evening was their wonderful cover of The Cure’s classic Just Like Heaven. It was a fast-paced, rocked-out cover, with Downing showing more emotion than Robert Smith did with the original. It was a definite crowd-pleaser, with almost everyone in attendance singing along.

Scott Stevens slings sonic daggers…

They ended the night with the fast-paced Zombie Killer, reaching back ten years to their debut release. The number instantly reminded this writer of the NYC hardcore scene in its heyday, with shades of a rockabilly sound bubbling just below the surface of the tune. An informal kind of mosh formed, with a few of the crowd pleased to be bouncing off one another.

Combining elements of Ramones, The Misfits, Motorhead and more, Hells Fire Sinners cannot be pigeonholed into one specific genre, as they have taken all their influences and created their own unique sound.

Simply put, they are a rock and roll band that will get your feet moving and your body swaying. I would highly recommend that you see them play live at your next opportunity to do so.

Credit all images: Samantha Toale / MIMC

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  1. The Coming Of The Damned
  2. No One Now
  3. Take My Life
  4. Peel My Skin Away
  5. Sew My Mouth Shut
  6. Livin’ Lies
  7. Godless Self
  8. Sunday October 9th 2016
  9. Predict Your Sorrow
  10. No Tomorrow
  11. Eyes Go Black
  12. Just Like Heaven (The Cure cover)
  13. Zombie Killer


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