Helliphant’s resume reads like a who’s who of Madison rock bands. The list starts with Plastic and continues on, including Uncle Eddie, Way off The Horse, the Skintones, Ladybeard, echo-static, Carl, The God Damns, Bon Squad, Whore du Jour, Jumpin’ Jack Hash, Mr Brownstone, 4 X Daily, Easy Data, Rayging Whoremoans…and it goes on. The coming together of all these talents makes Helliphant a bona-fide local supergroup.
The band’s second album confirms that Helliphant is a mighty beast indeed. There are only seven songs here that run a total of just over thirty minutes but that seems long enough, as perhaps there is only so much horror rock you can take in one sitting before becoming zombiefied. Then again, that didn’t stop me from hitting replay several times in a row. Every track is anchored by a ferocious riff that would be pretty standard fare in the hands of most bands; but Tim Thompson’s (aka Treacherous Tim Slick) keyboards add such menacing weight to the already leaden sound that they become hellish pronouncements, summoned from the foul ass of Beelzebub himself.
The first track, “Crème de Noir” is a tour de force, setting the tone. There are few minced words on Powdered Tusk and the lead-off chorus of “But you’re drowning in shit…Bullshit!” gets in your face straight away. Chad Ovshak’s (aka Delicious G. Drizzle) drumming is excellent throughout the whole disc and here is where he shines brightest, even getting a brief drum break that he augments with congas.
“Choke” is fairly unimpressive until the song takes a left turn in the middle section. Helliphant excels at adding complex changes and embellishments to arrangements that appear simple on their surface and “Choke” is a good example of that.
The band has a hefty sense of humor underlying all their doom and this is most evident on the title track. Vocalist Joe Price (aka Deacon Dr. Jones) delivers a twisted sermon on the “issue of morality” while the gospel-influenced keys drive home the dementia. Price is more of a speak-wailer than a singer, sounding like a demented Rod Evans, but his vocal style makes perfect sense for Helliphant, not to mention his animated stage presence.
Elsewhere “Pound of Flesh” takes a lost AC/DC riff on a bad acid trip, while bassist Darwin Sampson (aka Orson Wellespring) gets a chance to flaunt his fuzzed-out bass on the segue between “Homicidal Stiff” and the final track, “Rebirth.” Guitarist Jeremy Roseland (aka Trickmaster J Rock) holds off admirably until “Rebirth” to deliver a possessed, blistering guitar solo.
Madison has a long history of intense and original hard-rocking bands. The sheer intensity of those in our city makes a lot of other metropolises look like pussies. Helliphant carries on that tradition with humor and grandeur. Long live the Madison sound.