When Hell In The Club released their debut album back in 2011, it was almost impossible not to be impressed by their retro sound. The Italian rock band truly went back to basics, borrowing riffs from early Skid Row and Motley Crue. By coupling those with anthemic choruses inspired by early Danger Danger, they obviously realised that a job well done would trump any originality at every turn. The result was an album with hooks so massive, it couldn’t fail to win over fans of glammy hard rock with a party attitude. The band worked the same formula for another three albums over the next six years, and although this never resulted in any huge sales, the routine appearance of their records was to the delight of their fan base. Despite changing musical fashions in the rock world, there was still clearly an audience ready to embrace the sounds of their youth…and with open arms.
2020’s ‘Hell of Fame’ essentially brings yet more of the same, but as the old maxim says, you can’t fix what ain’t broke. Hell’s desire to play things safely becomes clear just a few bars into ‘We’ll Never Leave The Castle’ which, despite having a hook that may or may not have been affected by some translational issues, rocks hard with a crashy drum part and tough lead guitar sound that comes straight from the Danger Danger and Trixter school of performance. Predictable it may be, but it’s an instant reminder of why Hell In The Club have always been great. Joining a great riff and enthusiastic hook, Dave’s lead vocals cry and curl throughout, and everything suggests that while this band’s stock sounds might be disposable, there’s nothing disposable about their talents. After a solid opener – even if it does sound like Hell In The Club by numbers – ‘Worse Case Scanario’ ups the ante, showcasing some superb tones from guitarist Picco as he throws out jagged sounds against a solid drum. This harder edged delivery is joined by a barrage of gang vocals indulging in the kind of chorus which seems designed for group sing-alongs. It’s all very basic, but ultimately, it’s also a lot of fun. Those hoping for something a little more indulgent are looking to the wrong band in some ways, but in others not, as this song is peppered with some great musical flourishes – not least of all an Iron Maiden-esque twin lead and a teasingly jagged riff that recalls half the band’s progressive metal pasts with bands Elvenking and Secret Sphere.
The least shy in showing its influences, ‘No Room In Hell’ presents itself as Motley’s ‘Dr. Feelgood’ with grubbier edges and much bigger boots. Andy’s bass parts are massive throughout and the way his meaty sound is used to open this track in a particularly brazen fashion is impressive. Joining the Nikki Sixx bottom end, guitarist Picco launches into a groove straight from G N’R’s ‘Appetite For Destruction’ in a way that more than shows this band’s love for 80s rock sounds. Throwing a call and response chorus into the bargain – fully loaded with sleazy gang vocals – this could eventually rank among Hell In The Club’s finest homages. With an even heavier edge, the speed driven ‘Mr. Grouch’ tears through a massive and dirty groove as the band echoes old Skid Row numbers ‘Slave To The Grind’ and ‘Riot Act’, resulting in another tune absolutely loaded with superb riffs. Throughout the performance, Dave’s vocals show off an attitude that’s just perfect for the job in hand. If you have fond memories of that brief period between 1990 and 1991 when big haired bands had started to toughen up but record companies hadn’t started to chase after grunge, this is a must hear.
Almost as strong, ‘Joker’ flaunts a solid mid-tempo groove, a world of twin leads and a serious punch (and that’s just during the intro). Moving into the bulk of the track, Hell show how they can go head to head with pretty much any Euro hard rock band and come out winning and especially so when wielding a catchy, harmony fuelled chorus. ‘Tokyo Lights’ at first opts for something a little more left field by applying a heavy riff to wibbling keys (something that, again, feels like an overspill from members’ rather more grandiose past), but becomes more predictable with the help of a massive AOR chorus. Quite often, it’s the main hook that dominates a Hell In The Club tune, but here, it’s an unexpected middle eight driven by a more jagged melody and lead guitar work that wins out. Picco’s featured solo is absolutely loaded with flawless vibrato, as if he’s channelling George Lynch and Michael Palace at the same time. Elsewhere you’ll find tough and cheesy hard rock played with a real drive (‘Lucifer’s Magic’); spikier rock peppered with taut synth pop edges (‘Nostalgia’) and the obligatory massive ballad allowing Dave to unleash his inner cheese-monger in an obvious tribute to White Lion (‘Lullaby For An Angel’), all of which help to create a filler free disc.
When Hell In The Club’s debut first appeared, it came across like a trashy but fun side project for the collected musicians. A fantastic way to let off steam. The fact that, in hard rock circles, Hell In The Club has now managed to outgrow all of its parent bands is really impressive and the fact that this fifth album might even be their best, even more so. You won’t find anything here that’ll change the world – that really isn’t what this is all about – just carefree, massive hooks and brilliant retro riffs, delivered in a shameless manner time and again. Recommended.