Hella’s technical prowess has never been disputed. Founding members Spencer Seim and Zach Hill make easy work out of difficult time signatures and mathy noise-rock complexities—anything less from the two would seem like a disservice to their talents. As their music has hardly ever followed a straight line, neither have their recording habits: Hella transitioned from the tight two-piece setup of 2004’s The Devil Isn’t Red to the splintered solo efforts of the double-album follow-up Church Gone Wild/Chirpin’ Hard to the expanded full-band orchestration of 2007’s There’s No 666 In Outer Space. So after a four-year hiatus, the act’s return to a scaled-back lineup on the new Tripper, which features only Seim and Hill, is somewhat unexpected, but not unwelcome.
Tripper is a lighter version of Hella, but it’s a weighty effort nonetheless. The opening track, “Headless”—the title itself a riff, perhaps, on the revised vocalist-free lineup?—is a stripped-down instrumental that is a clear expository statement about the rest of the album. There is no pretense here. This is Hella in its most basic, exhaustive form. The record is dominated by Seim’s erratic chord changes and even swifter lapses of psyched-out free-for-alls. The drumming is just as persistent; Hill is as manic and machine-gun-armed as ever. Though Tripper lacks the noisy experimentation of the band’s earlier work, it makes up for that in sheer brutality. The record is a return to what Hella does best: breakneck instrumentals and raw, inhuman-sounding musicianship.