For over a decade, Carl Shane and his Boston trio Kal Marks have released music on the noisier side of punk. The music reflected a sense of dread and pessimism about everything awful happening in the world. Track titles like “Fuck That Guy”, “Loneliness Only Lasts Forever”, and “Everybody Dies!!!” confirmed this. When the pandemic hit, the lens turned inward as Shane’s core rhythm section left the band. It was unsure whether he would continue writing music under the same banner. With the release of My Name Is Hell, Kal Marks is back with an all-new lineup and a refined sound that helps bring forth Shane’s best production of scummy punk rock yet.
The new Kal Marks lineup includes Dylan Teggart (drums), Christina Puerto (guitar), John Russell (bass), and visionary Carl Shane (guitar/vocals). Shane has been a prolific songwriter, and the Kal Marks Bandcamp can attest to this. In addition to the three studio releases, a handful of unpolished lo-fi demo recordings give us a glimpse into the formative stages of his process. Before My Name Is Hell, the production quality, even on proper studio releases, was rough around the edges, which in a way fit the scuzzy punk riffs Kal Marks delivered.
On My Name Is Hell, most notably, the vocal production is much cleaner, which does a better job at capturing the dynamic between Shane’s nonchalant singing and vocal cord-tearing screams. The slapback reverb adds more depth, but truth be told, the vocals could come up a bit. At times, the lyrics get lost in the noise of the rest of the band, and it’s difficult to hear what Shane is singing (or screaming) about. A level adjustment would only make an already impressive release that much more impressive.
My Name Is Hell opens with the self-deprecating “My Life Is a Freak Show”, making clear that, like previous releases, you’d be mistaken to derive a minutia of optimism from the album. A tribal drum beat kickstarts the song, sounding like pounding on a trash can, foreshadowing Shane’s primal howl: “We’re all animals / We all feed from the same trough / We live in the same house’ cut from the same cloth / We’re all flawed / We’re all fucked from the start.” The song builds and intensifies, lifting Shane’s songwriting to new heights.
The new lineup gives the song an engaging arrangement and reflects the indignation in the tone of his voice that can, at specific points, be mistaken for Tom Waits. The track is the perfect entry point to the album, anticipating the wrath of bludgeoning riffs, fuzzy basslines, and frustration liberated by Shane’s raw and unhinged vocal delivery.
The arrangements make My Name Is Hell stand out from his previous releases. The new lineup feels like they have been playing together for a long time, and the way the songs develop seems much more thought out. With the previous trio, there appeared to be an element of experimentation, something that seems more of an afterthought.
The stand-out “Shit Town” serves as the unofficial definitive track to the album, representing the angst that permeates throughout and the well-orchestrated synchronization with the new cast. The rhythmic jolts and anthemic vocals are catchy and infectious, recalling a young At the Drive-In. If post-hardcore music were ever to penetrate the mainstream again, “Shit Town” could be the closest thing.
If you are unfamiliar with the work of Carl Shane and Kal Marks, My Name Is Hell is a good introduction. Though the album features a new lineup, it feels like the most fully-realized version of the group Shane has put together. The song arrangements are exciting, and their previous work’s vocal production quality is much improved. Increasingly, the post-punk genre is becoming overcrowded with acts, and Kal Marks might seem like an unnecessary blip. This past year, we’ve seen releases from TV Priests, Mush, Viagra Boys, and Petrol Girls. However, Kal Marks prove they are relevant with My Name Is Hell and are not a group that should be overlooked or underheard.