Before passing away in early 2020, Kal Marks shook Boston’s foundations from the basement. The 2018 Album Universal care defined the noise-rock trio at its peak; Singer-guitarist Carl Shane embodied an ordinary proletariat on the verge of collapse, his guttural howl the sound of a man descending into visceral, violent panic. Following the disbandment of the longtime power trio, the band’s tumultuous fifth album, my name is hellfollows Shane with a newly formed quartet rolling out their dense, cantankerous sound with brash bravado.
“It may be crazy, but I feel more realistic than pessimistic,” Shane told WBUR in 2018, challenging an idea that has hovered over the group since its inception in 2010. “I understand that, most likely, nothing good it’s going to happen, you know?” my name is hell vehemently defends this idea: “I know the wrath of God / Like the traces of my own palms”, he shouts on the crisp march of “Ovation”, his voice hoarse and hardened. It no longer registers like the Kal Marks of old, the creature with its back against the wall. Where previous records seem bound by chains in a junkyard, this album is wild and prowling, filled with adrenaline.
Shane, now accompanied by Christina Puerto of Bethlehem Steel on guitar, Dylan Teggart of A Deer A Horse on drums and bassist John Russell, used the new lineup to stretch the band’s proportions, adding layers of guitar melodies 90s-inspired and loose interplay to a tremulous, rhythm-driven sound; the music buzzes with the most harmonious reciprocity his discography has ever seen. The turbulent opener “My Life Is a Freak Show” signals a similar change to Swans and Harvey Milk after their strident early outings. The days of nostalgic violence (Universal care“Fuck That Guy”) came out; self-spurring curiosity and acceptance are in the spotlight (“My life is a freak show / I’ve got nowhere to go!”).
Energetic, punky songs like “The Future” and the anthem “Everybody Hertz” feel more in tune with former Kal Marks contemporaries like Pile and Krill, bands that dominated the Boston scene in their early days. But whereas Kal Marks was once billed as the shy underdog, proudly playing songs often without any tangible melodies to pick up, the band’s new iteration gives itself more room to stretch, making bold new harmonic choices as it the fact. “I’m bored again / I’ve never felt so lonely,” Shane confesses on the album’s “Bored Again” close-up; in a sparse, airy moment like this, we witness a rare breath without anger or power, a stark example of vulnerability leaping like a rock over a pond amid lapping cymbals and double guitars.