March 25, 2003

Hellfire Sermons "Hymns: Ancient and Modern"

"Hellfire Sermons. Who?"

Such a reaction would be a fairly typical and slightly justified response to the mention of this obscure late 80s-early 90s British indie band. I certainly never heard of them back then. Perhaps their obscurity isn't necessarily their fault, or anyone's for that matter. After all, how many great local and regional bands do you know of that never really went any further than their city limits? Yeah, we all know bands like that, and Hellfire Sermons are a band who fall firmly into that category.

Hellfire Sermons, ten years on, don't sound bad, but they probably aren't going to become a Field Mice-type of inspiration to anyone, either. Why? Simply because they weren't very shy about their main influence, the Pixies. If anything, they were victims of the times; another band that wasn't shy about their Pixies influence had reached nirvana, and the tidal wave that they caused all but drowned smaller bands like this--ironically, that mastermind would have probably liked Hellfire Sermons, had he heard them!

Still, just because a band is never anything more than regional doesn't mean that they're devoid of charm, talent, and good songs, and Hellfire Sermons have plenty of them. When taken individually, all of these songs are dirty little pop jewels. When taken collectivly, though, their formula shows, and you can't help but think that their genius may have been limited to one or two good ideas. Still, those ideas produced some great numbers, such as the ripping "Covered In Love", the lovely and popping "Quicksand," and the brooding "No Hands." Those three songs pretty much cover the gamuet of what Hellfire Sermons did at the time--and yes, they do sound quite familiar, but that's okay. These limitations lead you to understand why they never released a full-length album.

Some people think of Hellfire Sermons are a long-lost jewel, and I guess if you were there the first time, I can understand why; they're the type of band--the local underdog for whom nothing goes right--of whom rock and roll myths are made of; their fanbase, though small, probably snapped up all of these releases and still cherish them today. Hymns: Ancient And Modern is a collection that provides those of us who weren't there the first time the evidence of what exactly was so great about Hellfire Sermons to those who were.

--Joseph Kyle

No comments: