Review Summary: Hella extend their line up and also the extent by which I can stand them.
It is a rare occasion that, once a band has a distinctive sound, it decides to switch gears, five years down the road. However, when a band does attempt to be this pretentious and original, it often leaves the band to settle in one of two camps. The options are either that the band's new sound is completely wretched, and it was extremely worthless for the band to even attempt such a change, or, alternatively, the band garners a new fan base for how much better they've become. I for one was not a fan of Hella's earlier work. It reminded me of Lightning Bolt without the punch, or Ahleuchatistas without the dynamics. So, when I heard Hella's new release was going to include a whole new line-up, of course I was relatively interested. Further peaking my interest in "There's No 666 in Outer Space" was the buzz around the Mars Volta's fan board, The Comatorium. Members of that board were heralding it as the closest thing to TMV's first LP, Deloused in The Comatorium. So, with reluctance, I downloaded the album when it first leaked in late November 2006. What came out when I first played the album was nothing that I had expected. Gone were Hella's typical inane jams, and in their place was a highly focused, extremely technical, and most importantly lush form of rock music. While comparisons can certainly link the album to The Mars Volta (Hella did tour with them), Hella is certainly make waves for itself with a new brand of "progressive rock".
"There's No 666 in Outer Space" is basically what would happen if Don Caballero were to get a vocalist. In its simplest form it is math rock with vocals, and the occasional saxophone also makes an appearance. Because of the album’s math rock tendency, often times it is hard to go through and find very distinct sections; it all seems to run together. This is both a negative and positive, because on one hand it gives the album a very trancelike feel too it, but on the other hand it's nearly sixty minutes of the same type of music. Had Hella cut the album into, say, a thirty-minute EP, it could possibly be one of my favorite new records. The interplay across the band is marvelous, and the stop-start feel of post-hardcore bands is clearly broken apart into a form of math rock that is both original and distinctive. Vocalist Aaron Ross is kind of a cross between Cedric Bixler of The Mars Volta and one of the members of the late '80s post-punk scene. He wails, but also sticks to a level of melancholy that makes his rants seem much darker and less entertaining than Cedric of TMV. Zach Hill, as per usual, is utterly ridiculous behind his drum kit, and bends the mind at ever opportunity he has. How one man can play this hard, for this long is completely beyond me. Hella's other half, Spencer Seim, has seemed to tone down his unnecessarily fast guitar playing and morphed into some kind of bastardized version of '80s era King Crimson and his math rock backing. Still, the band is focused on being showy and ridiculously technical with their music, and this is clearly one of the flaws. They never seem to lighten up on it, save for on the track "The Ungratefull Dead," which is clearly the album’s highlight. This stellar track sounds like it could be a Mars Volta b-side.
The members of Hella have redefined their sound in a way that makes it actually pleasing in my view, and they clearly deserve some respect for that. Still, the band members are stuck in some of the pitfalls of math rock with "There's No 666 in Outer Space," and perhaps when they successfully mature their way out of their current mindset towards music, they'll release a definitive classic of the genre. As for right now, Hella is stuck in the realm of Yowie -- playing with excellent ideas, but too stuck on defining themselves with an all too familiar genre. For music's sake, I hope Hella decides to distance itself from a specific genre, because it clearly could do something that has never been thought of before. That is what I'm always hoping for every time I put on a new record.