Last Saturday, a bunch of punks gathered at Wellington, New Zealand’s Death Ray Records to celebrate the launch of local DIY tape label Razored Raw. I was there too. But I look like a buzzkill dad who’s turned up way too early to pick his kid up from a disco. So I hid in a corner. Where I belong.
I was stoked I went to that matinee show though. I got to witness a bass-drilling-into-your-skull set by filth/sludge duo Pantihero that was 100% fucking siiiiiiccckkkk. (See here for my thoughts on Pantihero’s recent paint-stripping debut.) And after Pantihero’s set, Manawatu rock 'n’ rollers The Hellebores stepped up and delivered a stonkin' selection of short and sharp songs too.
I’d actually never heard of The Hellebores before Saturday. But as soon as the band’s stocky guitarist/vocalist Hugh dispensed with his shirt and adjusted his leather-and-chain cap, I was confident the trio were going to be a ton of fun.
And they were.
And so is their self-titled debut.
Recorded live in a single session (by Razored Raw head honcho Matai), The Hellebores tear through 11 tracks on their first release with barely a pause for breath. Like previous Razored Raw releases from Pantihero and Stress Ghetto, The Hellebores captures the gritty, abrasive feel of an uninhibited live performance. So if you’re after patient steps and pristine sonics you’d best look elsewhere.
Personally, I’m all in favour of a live and raw debut. (But then, MC5’s Kick Out the Jams is possibly my favourite album of all time.) One things for certain, I definitely enjoyed how the aforementioned Hugh and The Hellebores’ drummer/vocalist Mon and bassist/vocalist Ben kept ramping up the instinctive, primal energy throughout their debut.
It’s great fun listening to the band hurl stripped-down rock 'n' roll at garage rock with the volume on 11. And there’s a hint of “one-two-three-four…” power-packed punk to be enjoyed too. I generally hate talking about a band’s influences, because what I hear might be far removed from their creative reality, but if you like bands such as The Stooges, The New Bomb Turks, Teengenerate or The Oblivians, then tracks off The Hellebores (like “Faith”, “Easy Targets”, “Go Away!” and “Free Bands”) are definitely going to appeal.
It’s also worth pointing out that The Hellebores’ debut features a ripping cover of “Zenith Reptile”, which was originally performed by 80s Auckland (and Detroit-punk lovin’ villains) The Henchmen. That track really highlights the kind of ne'er-do-wells who’ve inspired The Hellebores’ sound. But, like all great cover songs, The Hellebores’ version of “Zenith Reptile” has definitely encouraged me to reacquaint myself with The Henchmen’s Stooges-worship too.
All up, The Hellebores’ rough-hewn and hook-filled debut is another sonically caustic but still eminently enjoyable release from Razored Raw. The album is boiling with energy, and it has a very coarse edge, but it’s also markedly different in tone and content to Razored Raw’s previous releases.
In fact, although Razored Raw are clearly a DIY punk label, every tape they’ve released so far is stylistically different. Case in point: this past weekend Razored Raw released The Hellebores’ debut alongside a 21st anniversary edition of Ghidoragh’s (eccentric) hardcore classic Invincible, and the 2017 self-titled EP from noise/post-punks Church of Goya.
Razored Raw are proving to be an intriguing label that’s unafraid to buck conventions and expectations. It’ll be really interesting to see where the label goes next. In the meantime, the crashin’ and smashin’ garage punk debut from The Hellebores awaits.