While hardly mainstream fodder, the duo of Spencer Seim and Zach Hill take a step toward accessibility as they morph into a prog rock quintet, headed by caterwauling singer Aaron Ross. Like Mars Volta with a sense of humor or a noisier, more inscrutable Primus, Hella works whirling-dervish pyrotechnics into song structures while maintaining a wildly experimental bent. Ross' soaring Geddy Lee-like vocals are like another instrument in the mix, lending an emotional narrative to the music's coursing pulse. It's not exactly verse-chorus-verse so much as intensely nuanced prog symphonies in several movements. Seim and Hill's playing remains incendiary and Seim works in shorter bursts, while Hill is even more visible as the glue tying the whole clamoring, clattering cacophony together. There's lots of detail to digest. but there's also enough structure to slowly appreciate it. They demonstrate a playful sense of humor ("Anarchists Just Wanna Have Fun," "Friends Don't Let Friends Win"), and while there isn't a whole lot of melody, the songs are still pretty memorable thanks to their dramatic delivery. "The Ungrateful Dead" in particular sticks out for its haunting, insistent angular guitar and drums like pursuing horsemen.
Chris Parker writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].