It wasn’t all that long ago that Kal Marks broke up—sort of. After a decade together, the three members of the Boston post-hardcore outfit packed it in and went their separate ways. And if the last document of the band left to seal the group’s legacy was 2018’s Universal Care, furious and explosive album of noisy rock anthems that it is, it still would have been a remarkable close to a catalog—a catalog not enough people have heard, certainly, but one to be proud of all the same. But vocalist/guitarist Carl Shane wasn’t ready to retire the name just yet, and it didn’t take long before he found a brand new set of musicians for a second phase of Kal Marks—drummer Dylan Teggart, bassist John Russell and second guitarist Christina Puerto—marking the dawn of a new era with their best album yet, My Name Is Hell.
The frenetic, driving rhythms and abrasive, distorted sonic approach of Kal Marks’ past records still define the sound of My Name Is Hell, but the group employ these elements in the service of bigger, more sophisticated rock anthems. With a new lineup comes a new set of skills, and where there’s more than enough chops and piercing volume to go around, the agitation and tension of Kal Marks circa 2022 translates into a set of songs that feel more commanding, even soaring.
While Kal Marks often opt for subtlety or slow burn, that almost never translates to something quieter. Where a track like “Everybody Hertz” employs a kind of Springsteen-like, larger-than-life urgency, it still squeals with feedback and roars with a thick blanket of fuzz. There’s a similar tug-of-war between the easygoing strut of the title track and the squall of guitars that cascade over its intro, like a black metal band jamming “Werewolves of London.” There are also moments like “New Neighbor,” which emit a transcendent glow, bypassing punk and more grounded rock sounds altogether as they pull off an act of shoegaze levitation, or the ominous slow burn of “Who Waits,” an icy chill in the eye of a searing storm.
As the band aims to bring both more nuance and grandeur to their muscular noise rock rippers, those songs still carry the inescapable sense of anxiety and dread that often lingered on previous Kal Marks records. Within the first verse of “My Life Is A Freak Show,” Shane laments, “We’re all fucked from the start.” It doesn’t get much more optimistic from there; he wrestles with religion and ideas of a less-than-charitable greater power on “Ovation,” singing, “I know the wrath of God, like the tracings in my own palm,” while the song’s arrangement is much more hellacious than holy. And “The Future” seems to represent a tomorrow that brings something other than greener pastures: “The future came today, hope it don’t scare you.”
My Name Is Hell doesn’t exactly offer comfort in a literal sense—Shane is just as confused and afraid as any of us are, and Kal Marks operate best when stirring up a ruckus so imposing that the void would complain about the noise. That urgent, agitated sonic assault might not soothe, but it offers a form of catharsis that feels more like a form of strength. Reborn, with a new lineup and an even more powerful approach, Kal Marks sound more ready than ever to weather the storm.
Label: Exploding In Sound
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.