One of the great pleasures of life is discovering a band you’d previously never heard of who are so irresistibly good, they instantly become one of your favourite artists. This kind of thing doesn’t happen very often, but with Newfoundland-based Canadian band The Burning Hell, it was love at first listen. A very good friend of mine heard a track from this album played on Absolute Radio earlier on this year and was so impressed, he bought it. He then loved what he heard so much, he started enthusing to me about The Burning Hell, persuaded me to come to one of their gigs with him without even hearing a track and bought me a copy of “People” for my birthday. It was almost as if I didn’t have a choice in the matter; I was going to become a fan whether I liked it or not. Thing is, I can completely understand why his enthusiasm for the band led to him wanting to spread the word and recruit others to this very worthy cause because this is fresh, intelligent music featuring songs to make you laugh, think and then laugh a whole lot more.
The Burning Hell is the alter-ego of singer/songwriter Mathias Kom (plus a very talented bunch of musicians, of course) and, surprisingly enough, “People” is his sixth album, so it’s a little puzzling as to why it has taken so long for his music to reach the ears of people in the UK. Of course, it helps that “People” is an excellent album, but, having now heard the band’s back catalogue, I cannot say that it is discernibly better than the last few releases, all of which are extremely good, so it all comes down to the fact that a couple of radio stations (most notably BBC 6 Music) just happened to stumble across the band this year. Better late than never, as they say and, as such, this album has received a rather belated hearing in this country as “People” was originally released back in April 2013, but was re-released in early 2014 with UK music magazines and media picking it up for the first time then. It seems like a very good thing that “People” received a second wave of promotion, otherwise it would surely have passed a lot of people by.
I have to say, discovering The Burning Hell was well worth the wait; recorded in Berlin in the summer of 2012, “People” truly is an excellent listen. Opening track “Grown-ups” reminisces about a lapsed relationship, “Holidaymakers”, a song that leads to the protagonists meeting their maker, features a jaunty beat and a very catchy phrase repeated on woodwind, “Amateur Rappers” is a high-tempo, verbose, grungy rock track with many laugh-out-loud moments and “Realists” tells the tale of a show that went wrong which lead to Mathias philosophising about the greater picture, all to a soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in a stage musical. “Sentimentalists” is a touching piece, providing a snapshot of a particular moment in time, “Barbarians” is a lengthy musical story in the style of a traditional fable, with hints of Norse mythology thrown in for good measure, “Wallflowers” expresses a helpless romanticism with amusing, quirky lyrics over a supremely likeable soundtrack, “Travel Writers” relates a thoughtful narrative and final song “Industrialists” concludes the album with an epic story of a child who leaves home to build a mighty business empire, complete with a catchy, sing-along chorus. You may have also noticed, from this review, that all of the song titles are types of people, which neatly ties in with the album’s title.
It’s almost undeniable, the greatest strength of The Burning Hell is Mathias’ word-smithery. Clever, witty, cynical, detailed, original, his lyrics tell stories, they express opinion, they observe and philosophise and yet they have a beautifully unpretentious feel to them. Fortunately, the music isn’t just an incidental vehicle for some great lyrics; there has been equal attention given to the melodies, chord-structures and arrangements, meaning that The Burning Hell are a complete package and that their songs actually feel like songs and not just contemporary poetry set against a benign backing track. I have purposely not quoted any of Mathias’ lyrics, as doing so would be almost as bad as giving away a spoiler in a film review. When you listen to this album, you should experience it all for the very first time and shouldn’t have any idea of what is coming. The Burning Hell are the kind of band that gives hope to those depressed by the poor standard of commercial music. They straddle genres, pack more ideas into one song than the average chart-bothering band manage in an entire career and actually write about the whole breadth of life, death and the human condition. Their very existence is an antidote to the plastic, superficial world of the pop charts and I’m very thankful to my friend for introducing them to me. That’s what friends are for, right?
The Burning Hell’s “People” is available now on BB*ISLAND records and is available to purchase from Bandcamp and also on internet behemoths Amazon. For more information on The Burning Hell, please visit their website.