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Thursday, August 27, 2009

CD Review: Assjack - s/t

Assjack - s/t
2009 The Sidewalk Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

If you're primarily a country musician and want to cross over, don't take the Shania Twain route and softsoap your stuff with a Top 40 gloss to the point you embarass yourself--albeit the paycheck at the end of the day sure eases your ego. Don't take the Garth Brooks route and release an apposite quasi-rock album with hints of country courtre under an alternate identity. On the flipside, don't be like Christina Aguilera and do the about-face tactic, transforming from digitally-baked pop diva to a quote-unquote "serious" country performer, because it simply backfires and as she found out, nobody listens anyway. Not everyone has the natural grace and charm of a Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton to make an easy transition to differing audiences without altering their schemes. Loretta Lynn may have benefitted from rubbing elbows with The White Stripes' Jack Black as Tony Bennett did with The Red Hot Chili Peppers, but Lynn changed not a stitch of herself, God bless her honest self.

Hank Williams III (known to the underground lovingly as Hank III or simply III) is no Chris Gaines, but he might be a Gibby Haynes at heart. It's no secret the hellbilly from Tennessee is one of the fiercest competitors on the scene, be it in a country forum or along the metal and punk avenues. Hank III staked his rep for the latter genres by ushering a crunky, curse-laden form of traditional country to the Warped Tour and hellhole bars thereafter. Whether you find his snarling attitude and sense of "fuck you" lurking beneath a sound more in tune with the Depression-era dustbowl country music Hank III's reknowned grandfather soothed a bruised nation along with Hank Snow offensive, that's your problem, were you to ask III. It's recession time in the 2000's and III would rather exhibit the modern sentiments with his music than pussyfoot about things.

As psychobilly has blossomed in the American punk underground on the heels of Reverend Horton Heat, Tiger Army, Koffin Kats and the Danish superstars Nekromantix (who've mastered the style better than anyone), it should've seemed logical a guy who drinks piss 'n vinegar from a Mason jar and then spews it out in his gnarled delivery would've taken on a psychobilly project.

Welp, Assjack is the extension of Hank III's more riotous candor, but psychobilly this is not. Yep, there's a polecat and huckleberry demeanor projecting through Assjack, but the end result to Hank III's one-man-show is more in tune with the Butthole Surfers (ala Independent Worm Saloon), latter-day Ministry and the long-ago Al Jourgensen/Jello Biafra collaboration, Lard.

Performing the whole damned thing himself, Hank III's Assjack rings like the instigation of a teenager blowing his load out a speeding car window and laughing irresponsibly at the sight of his spew slicking itself across some hapless schmuck's windshield.

In the past Hank III has been found onstage peeking from behind the drum kit in Arson Anthem as well as slapping the tar out of his bass in Superjoint Ritual. As much a fan of Pantera as Waylon Jennings, expect Assjack to be chocked full of Dimebag Darrell chunk riffs along with some rather proficient death metal shredding. Embodying everything relayed in this review on his album's closer "Doin' What I Want" where Hank III screams "don't give a fuck!" at the top of his lungs, you have to appreciate the meaty chugs and the sicko blast beat patterns the youngest Williams fuses together. He barks with all of his manhood and throws in dragged swill vocals as if Ozzy Osbourne had spent a weekend in the South and tossed back more Kentucky Gentleman than one could intake without bumbling straight into the grave.

"Tennessee Driver" kickstarts Assjack with a doom intro before taking flight on a banging rhythm ala the Butthole Surfers' "Who Was In My Room Last Night?" (just as the Surfers took on a country kitsch on the same album with "You Don't Know Me") "Wasting Away" subsequently crushes your subwoofers with a loud stomp and "Choking Gesture" is Hank III's declaration he can heavy things up with the best of them. The same guy who essentially told The Grand Ole Opry to screw itself on his current country album Damn Right, Rebel Proud wants metalhead haunts to know he can easily wrangle up a mosh pit with the same vociferous vengeance.

Hank III tears his esophagus out on "Gravel Pit" and the greased-lightning thrashers "Redneck Ride" and "No Regrets" (the latter of which shows III exhibiting some Jello Biafra gurgling) as well as scatting quickly-wrought lines like a man with the fuzz on his tail on the careening "Cut Throat" and "Smoke the Fire."

If you're skeptical about a country kid jumping ship onto a metallic plank, believe in Shelton Hank Williams, III. Assjack is as loud as advertised and III has more aptitude for this music than some spending their whole lives in it. While there's more than a share of digital assistance to this project, Assjack is mostly au naturale parts thrown into Hank III's audile meat processor and have faith he grinds it up to manic delight. Besides, he has a performing band he's taking on the road as Assjack, along with his "Damn" country band, both appearing on the same bill. That's a dude who really loves performing music.

Not really the big surprise to 2009 as much as it is the year's biggest "hell yeah!" Assjack is an industrial-metal hee-haw with its hooves raised higher in the air than Hank III's middle finger.

Rating: ****

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