Record Review - 1 May 27 2004

Part of what made California duo Hella's 2002 debut, Hold Your Horse Is, such a memorably inapproachable, polarizing yet captivating exercise in methodical mayhem was its ability to spontaneously break into bombastic rock riffs big enough to bring the house down amid a flurry of nearly indistinguishable drum-and-guitar fury. Those rare moments of tangible 4/4 glory were so strongly embellished by their entrenchment in a mass of fretted squalor and a blizzard of toms and snare. But, in an effort to continually challenge themselves, the boys of Hella have created The Devil Isn't Red, an album much more complex — and ultimately less accessible — than the first.

Certainly, the new album does have a few infectious moments (see "Hello Great Architects of the Universe" and "Welcome to the Jungle Baby, You're Gonna Live," each dabbling in moments of triumphant melody); it's just that they're much harder to come by and aren't as immediately gratifying. Guitarist Spencer Seim's riffs are much thicker and more condensed than before, unlike the lithe, sparkling melodies that helped the band define its sound. Zach Hill's drumming is as manic as ever, a furious rhythmic nightmare that even manages to one-up the insanity of Seim's finger-tapped chaos with great precision.

Ultimately, Hella has done the unthinkable by topping the performance on Hold Your Horse Is, even if the band had to sacrifice some of its simpler rock sensibilities in the process. The Devil Isn't Red is well worth a listen for those willing to take the time to wrap their heads around one of the most challenging rock albums of the year.

Hella plays MJQ Drunken Unicorn at 8 p.m., Sat., May 29. $7-$9.