It might have been in Lake Station, Indiana, that Hel Toro realized that, no, they were not all that metal. Gurgling across the country in a veggie-oil van, the slash-and-burn group had been bouncing through a handful of clubs, dives, and suburban battles of the bands when it dawned on them that maybe they were out of their element.
METAL DETECTORS After playing night after night with one greasy Midwestern metal band after another, Silverstein says, “I started to feel like I was in the fucking Click Five.”
“We generally play with pretty typical indie-rock bands around here,” says bassist David Silverstein, whose outfit tends more toward the sounds of Amphetamine Reptile bands of the ’90s. “I feel like we’re pretty loud and rock-and-roll or whatever compared to all that, but when you’re in the middle of a tour playing with greasy metal bands in the Midwest every night, I started to feel like I was in the fucking Click Five.”
On a dark night on the empty rear deck of Deep Ellum in Allston, I learn that the Hel Toro brothers, David and Aaron Silverstein, grew up in Medford, where they became close friends (before a band ever formed) with guitarist/vocalist Rick Maguire in high school. The Silversteins lived together in a house in Medford till a few months ago when a fire sent them packing; they wound up in Arlington.
None of the three has a lot of musical training or even blatant æsthetic aspirations. Their whole relationship stems more from a townie Three Musketeers complex; the trio collectively lack that unfortunate pretentious sheen that tends to settle upon the city’s more career-minded residents.
“The best moments ever, probably, have happened in the jam space, when no one was watching or will ever hear again,” says David. Yeah, that’s right, he calls it the jam space. Do you think he gives a shit? We head over there from the bar, and I’d be lying if I said there isn’t a huge Rasta tapestry in there.
Hel Toro have taken a raw bunch of inspirations — like home-town heroes Drexel and the irreverent punk ideals of Fat Wreck bands — and contorted them into a genuinely nasty, heavy beast. They swear it’s a feel thing. David: “Aaron plays really weird off-time drum fills, but honestly, with this kid, I always know what accents he’s going to play.” Well, okay, but the result sounds as if more-disciplined brainpower had gone into it.
There’s some kind of in-joke about an abacus floating throughout our conversation that never finds a context, but I’m sure it’s relevant to the jilted time signatures and screwy stutter steps in every song. Drexel might be a good place to start. Hel Toro up the ante on that band’s stoic use of lurching, busted-metronome rhythms and razor-sharp Jesus Lizard guitars. Maguire screams his circular rants like a more focused David Yow, summoning ritualistic fervor for phrases like “You can’t see me because I’m not here.” They carom from acidic post-punk to misanthropic hopeless scrapyard blues. Maguire has a kind of up-front Mark Arm way of spewing every last garbled bit of grizzled angst he can wring out his lungs. I’m certain the mic at Allston’s Galaxy Park needed a good spritz of disinfectant after he was done wailing through their recording of The New Harmless (the album they’ll release this Saturday and celebrate at the Middle East).