Band – Various Artists
Album / Label – HELL OR OHIO / Independent
Rating – 6.5 / 10

Breaking with the traditional notion of what a “split release” is, HELL OR OHIO doubles-down with the inclusion of four bands on the full-length album being released August 10, 2018.

The concept for this four-band split release is the brainchild of Neil Tuuri, sound engineer at Amish Electric Chair Studios in Athens, OH and bassist with Lancaster-native hard rock band Gudger. All twelve tracks of the album were recorded at Tuuri’s studio, with the added benefit of showcasing to other musicians what his studio is capable of.

In addition to Gudger, Tuuri recruited the heavy metal/stoner rock sound of RACE of DEVILS from Columbus, OH, the elaborate storytelling rock of Mississippi Bones from the nether region of Hardin County, OH and the hodge podge of punk/metal/rock and more that is Hells Fire Sinners from Columbus, OH.

None of the bands are strangers to each other, as they have played shows together over the years. Each of the four bands have three tracks on the album, spaced in no discernable order throughout its nearly hour-long length.

Hells Fire Sinners stoked the flames at The Shrunken Head…

Opening with the slower tempo and melodic lilting of Eyes Gone Black by Hells Fire Sinners, the wailing vocals of Alan Downing are full of heartache. If I don’t make it back this trip, you’ll know… I am gone sings Downing, enveloping you in his pain, as the rest of the Sinners provide a foreboding backbeat to accompany the dirge-like vocals.

Changing gears and pulling a 180-degree turn, the heavy weight of RACE of DEVILS assault your cranium with The Owlets Wing. Coupled with the screaming, guttural vocals of Larry Jones, the other three members combine a mix of heavy metal riffs with stoner sludge to conjure a dark psychedelic experience gone horribly wrong.

The bass-driven opening of Keeping Up With The Joneses by Mississippi Bones is punctuated with the Jimi Hendix-meets-Tony Iommi guitar riffing, wah-wah warbling axe stabbing into your synapses. With the deep baritone of vocals of Jared Collins weaving a hypnotic beat, the band chugs its way smoothly through the tune. Heather “Baby Swiss Pissy Sheets” Collins’ backing vocals float effortlessly through the number, adding a wonderful air of lightness to the weighty sonic energy put forth by the band.

Gudger at Ace of Cups, June 9, 2017 (Credit: J. Laicy / Music in Motion Columbus)

Gudger mark their first appearance on the album with the aural sledgehammer of Pestilence, with their trademark tempo-changes and mix of angst-filled screaming and melodic, yet heavy tactile vocals of drummer/vocalist Aaron Eddleblute. From the mass grave they rise… fills the listener with an unease brought upon by the way with which Eddleblute almost spits each line of the song at you. It’s a dark and dreary song filled with the monsters that inhabit your worst nightmares. And, it’s positively wonderful.

The Sinners return with their second track of the album, slowing the pace on Bitter Inside. Downing’s depression-filled vocals permeate your every fiber as he dives directly down the rabbit hole of sorrow, You poor pitiful soul / so empty and so cold… hitting you squarely like a gut punch. Scott Stevens weaves a mournful tone with his guitar, jumping in and right back out again, complimenting Downing’s voice.

Mississippi Bones turn up the heat just a touch with once again hypnotic tempo of All’s Fair In Love And Doomsday. The myriad layers of sonic energy wash over the listener, worming their way through you on an almost cellular level. The funk/doo wop vocal bridge midway through the tune surprises you with an unexpected rhythm that is repeated at the end of the number, as well. The thing is, it’s not out of place within the structure of the song, working to keep you on your aural toes.

Image courtesy of Race of Devils

The Witches Keep has RACE of DEVILS pulling a Black Sabbath meets Iron Butterfly sound out of the ether, before the heavy stoner rock chugging of the band brings the number into focus. This track reminds this writer of his youth in the 1970’s, riding a Schwinn bike with banana seat and ape-hanger handlebars.

The downturned tempo and tone continue with Gudger’s second offering on the album, Sixer, the song full of guitar-driven riffage dripping from Derek Eddleblute’s axe. This would be my pick for standout track on the album.

The Sinners sustain their lyrical despair with Drink Myself Stoned, although they change the tempo at different times throughout, adding a touch of sublime depth to the song. Aaron Piatt’s tattoo beat on the skins in the faster portions fill the listener with an almost fearful tinge of angst.

The Bones get downright dirty with the nasty (in a good way) tone of Mandalorian On My Trail. The sonic assault is punctuated with an almost spoken-word bridge, adding poignancy to the fuzz-filled and distorted guitars. Heather Collins’ vocals shine brightly, simmering just below the surface, daring you to take the plunge.

Mississippi Bones caught the groove…
(Credit: Jesse Jester)

Derek Eddleblute coaxes a blues-heavy, distorted tone from his guitar to begin Gudger’s final track on the album, The Deity. The midtempo number is crunchy and heavy, forcing your toes to tap along in time with the rhythm of the number.

RACE of DEVILS closes out the album with slightly uptempo, but definitely heavy She Belonged To The Sea. Although the track has an enticing beat and tone, somehow Jones’ vocal styling just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the band. That’s not to say it’s bad; but rather that something is merely “off” and slightly jarring to the listener’s ears. The guttural screaming the close the song out just doesn’t really work for me.

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This album is ambitious in its scope, bringing four bands together that many may want to lump under the stoner rock/metal moniker. But, that would be a misnomer. While they all play under the “rock” umbrella, each has their own sound that is theirs alone.

Hell Or Ohio plays more like a compilation album than a collaborative effort, at times lacking in continuity. There is a cohesiveness that is missing; a common thread that should tie the package together, but does not. Each of the band’s three songs work well on their own, but lack the ribbon to wrap the package together neatly.

For fans of any of these four bands, this is an album you’ll want to add to your collection. But, I would hesitate to recommend this album to a first-time listener of the four bands, as this writer believes it is an album designed for the “already a fan” among you. Then again, I have been wrong in the past…

Tracklist

  1. Eyes Gone Black – Hells Fire Sinners
  2. The Owlets Wing – RACE OF DEVILS
  3. Keeping Up With The Joneses – Mississippi Bones
  4. Pestilence – Gudger
  5. Bitter Inside – Hells Fire Sinners
  6. All’s Fair In Love And Doomsday – Mississippi Bones
  7. The Witches Keep – RACE OF DEVILS
  8. Sixer – Gudger
  9. Drink Myself Stoned – Hells Fire Sinners
  10. Mandalorian On My Trail – Mississippi Bones
  11. The Deity – Gudger
  12. She Belonged To The Sea – RACE OF DEVILS