HELLBENDER – American Nightmare

HELLBENDER - American Nightmare
  • 7.7/10
    HELLBENDER - American Nightmare - 7.7/10


No Life Til Metal Records
Release date: July 3, 2020

User Review
0/10 (0 votes)

American Nightmare is the third release from California’s Hellbender, following the independent releases Steel, Blood, and Bone (2014) and Falling Down (2016), an album they promoted by touring the U.S. and Canada with Destruction. Seeking to help win them a wider audience, American Nightmare‘s cover art features an anthropomorphic warthog sitting in a ring of fire and wearing a papal hat, its porcine body shrouded in an American flag tunic held fast by an Eye of Providence brooch. The creature’s six arms hold an automatic rifle, a skull, an hourglass (time expired), a missile, a bible, and a snake; the album’s title mix of apocalyptic iconography promising a politically charged slate of heaviness.

While politics and Metal obviously mix and mix well (System of a Down, Sepultura, Rage Against the Machine, Megadeth, Lamb of God to name just a few), hitting wrong notes politically can be as off-putting to listeners as sour chords. When the thematic alchemy works, hearts and minds transform as adrenaline flows; when it doesn’t, confusion, or worse, apathy reigns.

The first single “Rosa” is a solid entry point to gauge how well Hellbender deliver on American Nightmare. Built around a cutting riff and a bouncing rhythmic pattern, “Rosa” tells the story of the economic challenge of trying to stay and survive in an increasingly expensive Californian town, the frustrations turning to anger as vocalist Dollar Bill sings about the town where his “family lived for three generations” and where he can no longer afford to live despite “working nine to five” is ultimately swept away by one of the wildfires that have plagued the state in recent years. Dollar Bill’s delivery gives a hardcore punk flavor to Hellbender’s Trad Metal/Thrash vibe; his pain and rage elevate an already good song with personal power. The video supporting the single is worth checking out, mixing actual footage of one of the fires sweeping through a neighborhood with band footage.

Economic disenfranchisement is a theme in several of the songs, and there are other themes common and familiar to anyone who likes some socio-political commentary in their Metal: environmental concerns (“Born Dead”). religion as a means of control (“Left With Nothing”),  and the general decay of society (“End of Days” and the title cut). The messages themselves aren’t particularly compelling (excepting the overall excellence of “Rosa”), but they’re delivered with passion and sonic verve. The hardcore gang choruses are catchy enough to lodge in the head and the music shred-worthy enough to make that head bang; and so while American Nightmare might not be the vehicle that wakes people up politically, it definitely won’t put them to sleep. Every step forward is a step forward. 


  • Daniel Waters

    Daniel was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio. Iron Maiden’s Piece Of Mind wasn’t the first Metal album he owned, but it was the one that lifted the lid off his soul when he received the record as a gift on his 15th birthday. He's been a Metal fan ever since. He's probably best known as the author of various Young Adult novels such as the Generation Dead series and the ghost story Break My Heart 1,000 Times, now also a major motion picture entitled I Still See You, starring Bella Thorne. Writing and music, especially Heavy Metal music, has always been inextricably linked in his mind and career. His first paid gig doing any type of writing was for Cemetery Dance, where he wrote a horror-themed music column called Dead Beats, and when he was writing the first Generation Dead novel he had a ritual where he started his writing day with a Metal playlist that kicked off with “Crushing Belial” by Shadows Fall.

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