Blöödhag: Hell Bent for Letters

[18 August 2006]

By Neal Hayes

The story of metal music is full of bands that have made their fame by cornering niche subgenres. By mixing shredding guitars, flowing hair, and Biblical lyrics, Stryper brought Christian metal to the mainstream and made history; likewise, by combining extreme music with some of the most violent, repulsive lyrics ever committed to disc, Cannibal Corpse made a name for themselves and helped pioneer gore metal. Today, another band stands ready to introduce the world to a new subgenre and take its place in the hallowed halls of heavy metal. Blöödhag, a death/thrash metal band from Seattle, Washington, has just released its second full-length, Hell Bent for Letters, an album which will probably be the most important edu-core release of 2006.

Blöödhag tries to work on two different levels and achieves varying success at each. The first of these levels is being a gimmick band, and at this task Blöödhag succeeds tremendously. The band members have created the subgenre edu-core, a mix of educational lyrics and heavy metal. Rallying under the motto, “the faster you go deaf, the more time you have to read”, they have gained a reputation for drilling the importance of reading into audience members’ heads, going so far as to throw books at fans during concerts. On their albums, they work to promote literacy by writing one-minute songs which focus on the life and works of different science fiction authors. Although the vocals on Hell Bent for Lettersare basically unintelligible, the band showed the foresight of including a lyric booklet with their disc, so lines like “He served the Air Corps in the Second World War and brought his typewriter back to the U.S. Shore” from the song “Frederick Pohl” do not go unappreciated. The discrepancy between such earnest couplets and the band’s buzzsaw guitars and guttural roars is hilarious in and of itself, but the band members go even further, heightening their comedy with tiny satirical touches such as the absurd vocal samples which open “Robert Silverberg” (“What you readin’ boy?” “A book.”). 

The members of Blöödhag also attempt to work as a serious metal band, and at this level they are less successful. The problem is not that their music is bad. The band members are quite proficient on their instruments, and their high-adrenaline sound will definitely inspire headbanging. Hell Bent for Letters even demonstrates a fair amount of variety, moving from the full-on speed metal of “Orson Scott Card” to the appropriately gothic “Edgar Allen Poe”. However, despite its redeeming characteristics, Blöödhag’s music basically only amounts to a vehicle for the band’s lyrics. Mostly restricted to a minute or two in length, the tracks on this album are less like actual songs than collections of riffs, which are occasionally ear-catching but offer little repeat listening value.

In the end, Blöödhag is an inspired gimmick band with a less-than-inspiring sound. Hell Bent for Letters will be an amusing listen for fans of science fiction, heavy metal, or wacky music, but it will probably find few fans in any other group. Adventurous listeners looking for a good laugh should check out this album. Discriminating consumers, on the other hand, would be better off buying a good book than Hell Bent for Letters. If Blöödhag truly believes the message it is preaching, it would surely stand behind such a purchase.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/bldhag-hell-bent-for-letters/