September 24, 2018 Electric Citizen – Helltown (Album Review)
After bursting on the scene in 2014 with Sateen, Electric Citizen impressed listeners and alike critics with their mix of Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, and fellow American Doom outfit Pentagram. A fearsome quartet consisting of Vocalist Laura Dolan; Guitarist, and husband, Ross Dolan; Bassist Nick Vogelpohl; as well as Drummer Nate Wagner, there was a slight shift in sound and personnel followed for their 2016 sophomore effort, Higher Time. An album met with mixed reviews, most listeners found it to be too drastic a departure from the smooth formula presented within Sateen. Now they return with their latest album, Helltown, on Friday, September 28, 2018 via RidingEasy Records.
A little backstory, the town of Cumminsville, Ohio was first settled in the late 1700s and officially incorporated in 1865. Situated just north of Cincinnati, the town gave city dwellers escape – for a day, for a weekend, for a lifetime. Smaller patches developed within the city, the most infamous being the western extreme, Hell Town. Cumminsville was soon absorbed into its larger neighbor, and the following century brought US-52 and I-74, which effectively split the neighborhood again. The upper half was subtly adjusted to simply ‘Northside,’ but through the years its roots as Hell Town persisted, and its history as a diverse home to blue-collar workers, colorful taverns, and counter-culture values has stayed alive.
Fitting for Cincinnati natives to take the name of their home neighborhood for Helltown, their third album comes at a bit of a crossroads. Vogelphol has returned to the bass slot and the band’s sound overall has returned to its roots of formulating quick, damning bursts of retro Rock that usually fit well within four minutes. For example, “Heart Attack” re-announces the band and again asks the question, what if a vocalist with Dio-slammed-into-Perry Farrell pipes was fronting any, or all, of the first five Black Sabbath albums, replete with the tasty instrumental backing that made that era of music so impressive? Then, “Hide It In the Night” continues course, setting the table for “Cold-Blooded Blue,” a track which could easily be the best on an album. Full of choices, the opening guitar riff taunts the listener almost immediately, laying the groundwork for a matching solo, one which finally reaches fruition just past the halfway mark.
Moving forward, Electric Citizen displays the breadth of their talent with “Father Time,” a slow dirge driven by the talented rhythm section of Wagner and Vogelphol laying a strong foundation for the wailing sorrowful guitar from Ross. Clearly drinking deep from the spring of Black Sabbath, the gallop halfway through this track leaves no doubt, but the broad ethereal vocals from Laura put to rest any accusations of carbon mimicry. Then the strong rhythm work appears again within “Ripper” and especially “New Earth.” Furthermore, the darkness of early-to mid-Sabbath appears again during “Lunch,” which could slot nicely between the second and third efforts from the Birmingham legends.
Lastly, album closer “Mother’s Little Reject” opens with a turn at spoken word, with Laura singing over caustic organ. The lyrics could be taken as a brief look into the life of a female vocalist in a male-dominated genre, if not the view of women in the world at large. This is while the monster riff and surrounding rhythm bookends a short return of the organ, but otherwise the guitar drowns the song using its repetition as a strength.
A rapid thirty-three minutes, Helltown is Electric Citizen at its best – quick bursts of strong songwriting and tight playing, matched by the utterly unique vocals of Laura Dolan. The only critique is the album sadly ends just as the party reaches its groove. Have no fear though because Electric Citizen has managed to stay prolific enough to produce new material every two years, so the wait for new songs has already started to tick away. That is why CrypticRock gives Helltown 4 out of 5 stars.