Emerging from the Midwest (Minneapolis via Fargo, North Dakota, to be exact) with a brittle, pop-culture-inspired worldview, Hammerhead once told a journalist that Robert De Niro’s Taxi Driver character, Travis Bickle, was the “spirit of the band.” Paul Sanders (guitar, vocals), Paul Erickson (bass, vocals) and Jeff Mooridian Jr. (drums) sure play as if his spirit has collectively possessed the trio. While Ethereal Killer isn’t strictly a concept album, it’s no Sunday drive through the park, either. Hammerhead plows a claustrophobic, minimalist soundfield with terrifyingly riveting precision, sharing — among the few decipherable lyrics — tales of child abuse (“Tuffskins”), murder (the title track, for one) and psychosis (“American Rampage”). On “Moleboy,” Hammerhead resembles equal parts Unsane, Didjits, Wire, Helmet and Hüsker Dü in a savage, darkly melodic pummeling any of the aforementioned bands would’ve been pleased to pen. Hell no, it’s not “fun” — it’s a proficient, relentless beast.
The seven-song Evil Twin supplies the same throttling energy, as the trio builds a dynamic assault with one solid instrumental (“Anvil”), the sudden fury of “Washout,” the sweeping aggression of “Peep” and the lumbering “Load King.” The more sharply honed — refined, even — Into the Vortex spirals satisfyingly into a thicket of dense sound, with lyrics that are more intelligible and less obsessed with violence (although “Somebody should clean this dirty world/Someone should save all the pretty girls,” from “All This Is Yours,” sounds suspiciously Travis Bickle-like). While some songs convey alienation and discord, there’s a sci-fi thread running through “The Starline Locomotive,” “Journey to the Center of Tetnus 4” and the instrumental “Galaxy 66.”
More experimental than previous efforts, Duh, the Big City redefines Hammerhead’s sonic heaviness with a dark melodicism underlying such sci-fi inventions as “Earth (I Won’t Miss)” and “Mission: Illogical.” Especially unrelenting: “Meanderthal” and the terrifying noise abstract “Mr. Bizmuth.” Mysteriously hummable: “I Don’t Know…Texas.” Both: “Monkey Mountain,” “Mune.” After recording the album, Paul Sanders left and was replaced by Craig Klaus (ex-Crown Roast).