Early word was that A Fiendish Threat would be a new album of Hank Williams III’s “hellbilly” material, the mix of hard rock, punk and country that I don’t think he does nearly enough of. As it turns out, the album was a new punk rock project that he’s simply calling 3.
If the Misfits had grown up in Appalachia and formed in Tennessee, they might have sounded something like “Can I Rip U,” the opening track of this record. III wears his Misfits influence on his sleeve throughout the album, as most, if not all, of the songs will put fans in mind of the classic horror punk outfit. But there are also shades of other bands, notably Suicidal Tendencies with “Full On.” In keeping with the roots of punk, A Fiendish Threat is a very low-fi recording. It’s muddy, ugly and gnarly, but in this instance, that approach works. It gives the record a classic punk feel, and I can almost believe I’m listening to a contemporary of the Misfits.
The thing that, perhaps, sets this project apart from other punk acts is that it’s largely acoustic. By that, I don’t mean that it’s soft. The requisite slashing guitars and vocal shouts are there, but instead of rumbling, distorted electric guitars, it’s mostly done with acoustic instrumentation. There’s more distortion on III’s vocals than on the guitars in most cases, though there’s an occasional vicious-sounding fiddle, as on “Watchin U Suffer,” one of the better numbers in the collection.
The songs here might be better classified as cowpunk. III doesn’t leave his roots behind. These tunes have been just as influenced by country as punk. Though it’s fast and angry, you can hear the occasional nod to a Johnny Cash gallop or some other vestige of the artist’s heritage. Even a song like “Face Down,” perhaps one of the most aggressive here, has some serious traditional underpinnings, and the country sound is all over “New Identity,” which features a spooky steel guitar lick.
Meanwhile, Charlie Daniels’ devil would be mighty proud of the wicked fiddling on “Feel the Sting,” which is one of the most stunning moments on the record. You know, listening to Daniels’ classic song, I always felt the devil got a raw deal. With that funky little piece he played, I always thought he kicked Johnny’s ass. I can guarantee you, though, that the devil wouldn’t walk away with this guy’s soul.
Aside from that, the songs have what you expect from punk. They’re fast, they’re angry and they’re full of catchy melodies.
If there’s a problem with A Fiendish Threat, it’s the fact that many of the songs run five-plus minutes long. There’s a reason that most punk songs clock in around two or three minutes. At greater lengths, they can get a bit monotonous, and a few of the songs here have that problem.
Still, overall A Fiendish Threat is one of III’s best rock efforts to date. Though I don’t like it as much as his hellbilly stuff, it has more life and energy than ADD, it’s catchier than Assjack and it’s certainly a lot more appealing than the bizarre 3Bar Ranch Cattle Callin.’ Truth be told, when I want to hear III, I’m looking for his country stuff, but I can see A Fiendish Threat getting a little playing time here and there.