House Harkonnen lead singer Alex Johnson said the Arlington four-piece had talked about making a concept record for years.
Vol. 7 is that record, and it’s an example of the careful planning and inspired art of a band that considers itself a hard rock outfit but sounds really, really metal.
“It’s about a nuclear holocaust in Fort Worth,” Johnson said.
Does the House Harkonnen have a beef with Cowtown? Why nuke the urban center that still tips a hat to its rural roots?
“No,” said Johnson, laughing. “We claim Arlington because that’s where we started, but we all live in Fort Worth now. That’s where we live. That’s where we hang out. When we started talking about making a concept album, one of the things we tossed around was ‘What would happen if Fort Worth got hit by a nuclear bomb?’ It’s a satire, for sure.”
The House Harkonnen has been on a short tour in support of Vol. 7. Denton’s Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios is the final stop Sunday night.
Vol. 7 is the second record House Harkonnen has made on the Denton-based DIY label Do for It Records, a startup that now has European backing but operates locally. Do for It is responsible for some of North Texas’ best metal and hard rock. Shaolin Death Squad is on the label, along with Denton’s Trebuchet.
“We have complete artistic control,” Johnson said. “Do for It distributes it. It’s a good situation we have with them.”
Johnson said the band plotted out Vol. 7 carefully. Between some tracks, you hear the sound of someone tuning a radio to find chatter and bits and pieces of country songs.
“Everything you hear on the record we did,” Johnson said. “The sound of the radio — you know how if there was a nuclear detonation like 100 miles away, how it would create static if you were listening to the radio? We wanted to show when the bombs were dropping. And the music, too. You can hear some old Texas swing music. We recorded that. The idea is that this is back during the Cold War, during the 1950s. The music you heard in Texas during that time was Texas swing.”
The record begins with “Beastmode,” a song about a band doing its thing and putting out music.
“It’s funny because its a death metal song,” Johnson said. “We’re a hard rock band, but ‘Beastmode’ is super brutal. It’s about a band that’s just doing its thing. They’re just happy for people to listen, and then there’s a nuclear bomb dropped.”
“I Sell Death” brings on the grinning corporate warmongers onto the fallout scene with ker-pow-pow drums and a plucky melody line reminiscent of a jingle that undermines the confessional. “I sell. I sell death,” Johnson sings. “I am a builder. I built your fate/I am the architect that made your life this way/I know no consequences, I know no shame/I take the goods, you take the test/I sell. I sell death/You wanted war, you got the best.”
“Nine Lives” carries on that theme, addressing the military that staffs itself with teenagers who need to fill empty pockets. “You can be my head case,” Johnson sings to a face-melting guitar shriek. “You can be made accountable/If you’ve got no money, I can be your cat eyes/I can spend your nine lives over and over again.”
“Fort Worth Body Count” struts into the ruined streets with guitars grinding in the manner of Alice in Chains, and Johnson’s tongue is sweetened with a Scott Weiland growl.
“Bombs Away” slows the record down considerably.
“It’s written from the perspective of the pilot as the bombs are dropping,” Johnson said. “He’s guilt-ridden and it’s slower and depressing.”
The House Harkonnen unites four versatile musicians with busy calendars. Dave Shafer plays bass, and the band’s drummer is Andy Grayson. Johnson plays the Hawaiian steel guitar for Wayne “The Train” Hancock and has made an electronic record. Guitarist Mike Doty has a garage rock project, Duell.
“We all grew up together. We’re all in our late 20s and 30s, and we were all metalheads,” Johnson said. “That’s what we listened to — death metal and hardcore punk and stuff like that.”
Vol. 7 was released in October.
“Now that we’ve done a concept album, I don’t think we’ll do another one for a long time,” Johnson said.
The band plans to release its third album later this year.