Hank3 / Megaforce, 2011
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/12/2012
It happens to everyone and at every business. Someone gets a grandiose idea that is, undoubtedly, the most original and greatest idea in the history of the world. Sometimes, those decisions are made under the influence of various substances; other times, people are simply drunk on their own excitement. But, the next morning, when the haze has cleared and the reality of the situation has set in, people sit on the edges of their beds, heads in hands, muttering, “Jesus Christ… what the fuck was I thinking?!?”
The world is full of such ideas. New Coke! Pajama jeans! Carving a swastika in your forehead right before you appear before the parole board! Getting the tattoo of Ross Perot on your breast! The list is endless.
Quite possibly, Hank Williams III (now known as Hank3, how I’ll refer to him throughout this review) has had his hubris event, though the gravity of it might not have hit him yet. It’s issued under the pseudonym 3 Bar Ranch and called Cattle Callin, an album that merges the worlds of speed metal with cattle auctioneering.
No, I’m not making this up.
Yes, it was painful to listen to… but not for the reasons you might expect.
People have huge expectations of Hank3, because of his name and family lineage. Not only is he the grandson of Hank Williams, but he’s the son of Hank Williams, Jr. Is it any wonder that Hank3 would want to try and make a unique name for himself in fields other than country music, knowing people would be expecting him to live up to two legends? Indeed, throughout his career, Hank3 has crossed between straight country and hardcore metal, sometimes blurring the two in unique ways.
But hearing auctioneers over speed metal? As crazy as it might sound, this is not a terrible idea…in fact, it should have worked. At times, Hank3 turns the machine-gun voices of various auctioneers (recorded during actual auctions, complete with crowd noises) into a drone that almost becomes part of the music. At other times, the staccato delivery of the auction calls tends to flow with the tempo of the music – and, in those brief moments, the listener sits there and thinks, “Damn… this could just well work!”
And then, the whole concept falls apart. There are four reasons for this that I heard – and, believe me, I suffered through every painful note of this disc, though I came close to just chucking it out the car window.
First and foremost, is the complete lack of bass guitar. Taking a cue from the Metallica …And Justice For All approach to recording, I didn’t hear a single note of bass on this disc. And I mean, I listened to it on my computer, then through headphones, then through my car stereo with Infinity speakers. Nothing. Big mistake, methinks.
Second is the way the auction calls are used. More often than not, the recordings from the auctions are played non-stop, whether there’s music there or not, whether the music is drowning them out or not. If Hank3 had done some editing of the calls to make them fit in with the tempos of the songs and the natural ebbs and flows, it would have sounded like regular vocals. The times that the cattle calls do flow with the music are the high points of the disc.
Third is the music itself – less a collection of songs, really, to my ears. What it sounded like I was hearing was a combination of snippets of song ideas combined with stream-of-consciousness riffing. Sorry, Hank…when I think of speed metal, I think of bands like Slayer and early Metallica. There was precious lack of continuity – and, in some cases, tempo – on many of these songs.
And then, there are the times that Hank3 decides to chime in with his distorted vocal drones, sounding like a cross between Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Corgan and Donald Duck, all of whom have their testicles attached to a car battery. The resulting noise really made me want to tear out my eardrums with a claw hammer. And, just when I thought I was free from the cacophony, the next track kicked in, leaving me screaming at my stereo, “Shut up…shut up…SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!” Please, someone…just shoot me now.
So, where could this concept improve (besides everywhere)? First, I’d leave the vocalization strictly to the cattle auctioneers, who I would actually bring into the studio to record their work, not rely on a recording from an actual auction. Second, I’d edit the cattle calls into short bursts that actually sound like they fit with a lyrical pattern. Third, I’d make sure that I actually had some solid song structures, not just random pieces with the occasional double-bass snare blast a la Napalm Death. And, most importantly… turn the bass up!!!
Cattle Callin was definitely an original idea, and, I still believe, one that could have worked had the correct planning and execution happened. Instead, this disc made me want to jump into the abattoir, head first. Hey, if it would have stopped this from playing, it would have been worth it.