The BellRays

God bless the BellRays, for they know what it means to rock. No, not "rock" in the same way as those bands slugging it out every weekend who think they rock because they have lots of tattoos, but in an honest and passionate way that blows the competition (if you can call it that) off the face of the earth. The BellRays' potent blend of "maximum rock 'n' soul" first made its way into the stratosphere via their monster 1998 debut, Let It Blast (Vital Gesture), a record that sent critics and quality-deprived music fans into a tizzy with its stripped-down/cranked-up (cranked waaaay up) approach to the most basic elements of rock and roll. But even more important--and pay attention kids, 'cuz this is what really counts--here was a band who believed in what they were doing, and made no attempt to disguise the fact.

Fortunately, things have changed very little in two years. Faster, louder, and more experimental than Let It Blast, Grand Fury exposes the BellRays in all of their soul-shaking, free-metal glory. Songs bleed into one another, shreds of feedback and noisy improv jams burst out of nowhere, and the band members are occasionally heard shouting out responses to vocalist Lisa Kekaula's crazed wailings. Guitarist Tony Fate's playing is at its peak, as he intertwines explosive Greg Ginn/Black Flag-like riffs with the crunching intensity of the Motor City Madman himself, Ted Nugent (a guitarist whose ax-grinding skills are usually overshadowed by his ludicrous poontang-and-party lyrics). On the loudest numbers--"Too Many Houses in Here," "Fire on the Moon," "Screwdriver," and the glorious "Stupid Fuckin' People"--the BellRays exude more emotion and kick out more jams than every band on the Anger Management Tour combined, ultimately fulfilling their mission with the gospel-metal meltdown of "Under the Mountain." Even when they decide to "slow it down a bit," as on "Evil Morning," "Zero P.M.," and "Have a Little Faith in Me," there's no denying the sheer power in the soulful intensity of Kekaula's vocals.

If Grand Fury had come out 30 years ago (with its gritty and technically spare production, it certainly sounds as if it could have), the same gang of tastemakers who creamed their jeans over the MC5, the New York Dolls, and the Stooges would have convinced us that it's a classic. And they would've been right.

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Jim Freek

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