Hank von Hell
The Garage, London
December 15th 2018
Hank von Hell rocked The Garage in London but received the middle finger from the entire audience as thanks for his efforts. Louder Than War’s Andy Duke found himself ‘flipping the bird’ alongside the rest of the crowd and examines why.
He’s back, sober and ready to rock. Following his tenure with Turbonegro, Hank Von Hell’s musical pursuits have been limited outside of his native Norway. With the exception of the comparatively short-lived Dr Midnight & The Mercy Cult, von Hell had seemingly all but retired from the world of rock. Until this year, thankfully, when this man of substance re-embraced his inner-Rock God with the release of ‘Egomania’ (his latest full length album). To quote Steve-O, who features in von Hell’s new video for affectionately titled Bum to Bum, “the world of rock ‘n’ roll needs you back”. The star of Jackass is right.
The band, all dressed in white, enter the stage first. Although we can’t see him yet, von Hell’s voice is pumped through the venue’s PA from backstage. “There’s going to be no introduction. I don’t give a fuck. Fuck everything. Fuck you”. To the uninitiated, this might seem hostile and indifferent. To his fans, however, this irreverent call to arms oozes tongue and cheek humour and an unflappable punk attitude. This combination has served the singer well over the years and tonight is no exception. With his Alice Cooper-esque makeup, white jacket, hat, spandex top and plus-sized stature – von Hell would not be out of place in the dramatic world of professional wrestling. And his grand entrance is met with the same enthusiasm that the heroes of Lucha Libre receive in Mexico. This isn’t just a gig, it’s theatre. And the surprisingly sparse crowd are loving every minute of it.
The band kick off their set with an incendiary version of the title track from von Hell’s latest album. It’s retro-tinged, in a non-cheesy 80s fashion, catchy and delivered with razor-sharp tightness. As the final stab to the anthemic Egomaniac punctures the walls of The Garage, von Hell raises his hand and defiantly shouts “I’m fucking back, London!”. Despite the top layer of humour, the dark reality of von Hell’s life is that he has had to battle many personal demons to enable him to “get back”. Both to rock ‘n’ roll AND London. With this dynamic, it’s not surprising that the 46-year-old frontman is performing as though his life depends on it. It does.
The quartet of musicians backing von Hell are clearly ‘in the zone’ and their stage antics suit the vibe of the material perfectly. The two versatile guitarists, Major Sam resembling a punked-up Bros twin circa 1989 and Cat Casino recalling a more hair metal version of Johnny Thunders, know how to deliver the goods both visually and musically. From bopping their heads and instruments in close unison a la Judas Priest to brandishing their respective tongues like lizards to each other – these axemen effortlessly work the crowd. Add into the equation a drummer who delivers metal-infused beats with drum machine precision and a bespectacled bassist who holds down the foundation with impressive dexterity and the result is a formidable band who never let up in the energy stakes.
Entertainment levels continue to prosper even when the band aren’t playing. von Hell’s onstage banter is an important part of the experience. Adopting an impressive Scandinavian variation on the cockney accent just for tonight’s gig, von Hell begs the audience to quieten down. “Shhhhhhh! Keep it down, why don’tcha?!?!?”. When the audience follows his command, von Hell laughs and quips “this is the first time in fuckin’ history that a London punk audience was silent” in Johnny Rotten-style.
Despite his tremendous bravado and confidence, I feel that the search for validation is very real in von Hell. He asks the audience if they’ve missed him some ten times during the gig. In addition, many of his highly entertaining tales are tinged with fears of public indifference about his return to the music after such a long absence. Rather than berating the singer about his neediness, I feel that it’s brave of von Hell to be open and honest about his very personal concerns. This very visible vulnerability also provides a well needed antidote to his sometimes unsavoury alter-ego as a frontman. Ultimately, Hank von Hell is a character while Hans Erik Dyvik Husby is the real person behind the mask. While the realities of his life-imitating-art bouts are well documented, it appears that sobriety brings a clearer perspective on the boundaries between these two very aspects of von Hell’s life. And, perhaps, he’s still adjusting his headspace to find an effective balance. Looking at the rotund singer and his band, all dressed in virginal white, I also can’t help but feel that this highly effective stage getup is an extension of his clean lifestyle. White symbolises purity after all. And it’s no coincidence that the proudly sober Steve-O appears in his latest aforementioned music video. But does this embracing of a cleaner life alter the Norwegian’s ability to rock? Not at all. Nor does it affect his ability to take charge of the proceedings. During the intro of Dirty Money, for instance, he asks the band to stop prematurely with a loud “SHUT UP!” so that he can carry on with some extra banter. “This is one of the advantages of being a solo artist, you know, I can tell my band what to do”, laughs von Hell. This curtailed start has a purpose, however, in that von Hell wants to introduce all the attendees to a new hand gesture to denote something that “rocks hard”. “Follow what I do and you’ll use this for the rest of your life”. Extending his fist out towards the audience, the instructions are simple. “Just raise your middle finger, guys”. And, as if by magic, every member of the audience complies and proudly returns this lewd gesture back to its architect before the band returns to tackle Dirty Money in earnest.
Following an epic version of ‘Never Again’, featuring impressive backing vocals during the track’s breakdown from the band, von Hell dedicates ‘Blood’ to “all the sisters that menstruate with style”. If Body Form ever need a new track to help sell their wares, ‘Blood’ is most definitely not it regardless of whether or not wings are involved. But it’s an impressive rocker that wouldn’t be out of place on a Mötley Crüe album during the height of their powers.
While his new material is infectiously immediate and likely to become future classics for longstanding fans, the inclusion of Turbonegro tracks in the set sends the enthusiastic crowd into overdrive. ‘Selfdestructo Bust’ and ‘All My Friends Are Dead’ are delivered with fresh enthusiasm and irresistible power. And, more importantly, a great deal of fun. Despite the density of the audience being at the thinner end of the spectrum, there’s also an impressive amount of crowd surfing during these sonic walks down memory lane.
Throughout their main set and into the four-song encore, there’s no shortage of smiles from the group and its fearless leader. Hank von Hell and his crew are clearly having the time of their lives and, thanks to the consistently tight delivery of material both past and present, it never ceases to be convincing. Similar to their Scandinavian neighbours Ghost, the elements of humour and parody never become overwhelming because of the quality of the songs and outstanding execution both live and in the studio.
Closing their set with Turbonegro’s ‘I Got Erection’, von Hell is given a middle finger salute from the entire audience. As the final chords ring into a swelling crescendo of piercing feedback, von Hell returns the gesture and in a quasi-cockney accent says “you like my middle finger, don’t you? It’s been in a lot of bums”. A banal but fitting way to end a highly entertaining gig. But, in tandem with the dying feedback of a Gibson Les Paul, the singer’s smile transforms into a far more pensive expression. “London, we fucking love you”. As ever, beneath all the humour and silly sexual innuendos, is a sensitive musician who just wants to rock. Steve-O is right, the world of rock ‘n’ roll needs Hank von Hell back. Long may he stay.
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To find out more about Hank Von Hell’s movements, click your way to his official website.
Watch Hank Von Hell’s epic video for Bum To Bum, featuring Steve-O from Jackass, here.
Hank Von Hell’s new album, ‘Egomania’, is out now via Century Media Records . Listen to it via Spotify here.
Buy your Hank Von Hell swag here.
All words by Andy Duke. Andy Duke is a London based raconteur, musician, writer, collector of soda syphons and the man behind ‘The Dukey Radio Show’ podcast.