Norwegian überrockers Turbonegro lurch back to life with a pair of reissues and the brand new chaos of Scandinavian Leather.
by Andria Lisle
Denim rock is back! Hot on the heels of their northern compatriots the Hives and the Hellacopters, Turbonegro---Norway's tongue-in-cheek answer to heavy metal---has reformed just in time to capitalize on the Scandinavian rock revolution. It's been five years since the group released the raucous Apocalypse Dudes (they disbanded shortly after), but as of right now, Hank von Helvete and the rest of the boys are back, harder, heavier, and more fun than ever.
"It was like four years," von Helvete tells me, when I ask about the hiatus. "We all did different stuff. I did my rehab, and the other band members played music and worked." While Turbonegro never intended to get back together, he sees their reunion as a natural progression. "First of all, I felt better, and was able to play again," von Helvete explains. "And the interest had grown for our band and we were gaining new fans every day. We decided to reunite and see what happens. We played three festivals last summer, and we rocked even harder than ever!
"Those shows were thrilling, and we decided to make another album [for the U.S.-based Epitaph label, which also reissued Apocalypse Dudes and Ass Cobra, another early album] and tour again. So far, it's been going great," von Helvete says.
Turbonegro are currently on the road with Queens of the Stone Age, part of a "huge rock 'n' roll extravaganza," as von Helvete calls it. "Our tour is going amazingly well," he says. "Even though we're just the opening band, we're winning over lots of fans. The ones who listen to our albums are totally into it---when Scandinavian Leather comes out in May, we'll be able to conquer the world!
"Scandinavian Leather smells like human beings---like man," von Helvete says. "It smells sweaty when it's sweating, but nice when it gets out of the shower, like perfume and all that." His perfect English is politely concise, and, over the phone at least, there's no trace of the garishly made-up, gun-toting wildman who dominates the band's stage shows. When I press him about the verboten lyrics of "Sell Your Body (To the Night)," a song that adds fuel to the "homo or not" argument that's followed Turbonegro throughout their career, von Helvete's response is courteous---and surprisingly demure.
"We are everything! We are just pro-sex---we're sexual beings!" he laughs. But Hank doesn't kiss and tell. "What happens on the road stays on the road," he demurs. "We are an attractive catch for the groupies, but we are actually very decent gentlemen. We don't use anyone!"
But, when it comes to the music, all his good manners and common civility go flying out the window. In fact, think eighth grade when you put Scandinavian Leather on the stereo. C'mon, you remember---masking hickeys and zits with caked-on concealer, circling the opposite sex around the school cafeteria, bragging to your friends about what you would (or would not) do. Drinking stolen beer in the convenience store parking lot, smoking your older brother's pot, huffing the glue that came in that model airplane kit. You made do with Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, but rest assured---had Scandinavian Leather been available then, it would have been the soundtrack to those blurry years.
"No fillers, just killers!," brags von Helvete, and he's right. "Wipe It Til It Bleeds" combines the sonic assault of Euroboy's electric guitar (think Randy Rhoads) with a catchy singalong chorus, while "Turbonegro Must Be Destroyed" brings to mind Henry Rollins-era Black Flag. The darkly humorous "F*** the World" rivals black metal kings Mayhem for head-banging anthem of the decade, and "Drenched in Blood (D.I.B.)" takes the party to an even higher level as von Helvete evokes the late Joey Ramone on the syrupy-sweet chorus.
Ironic rock 'n' roll? That's for you to decide. Chances are, you'll down a shot of whiskey, crank the volume up to ten, and pogo along to the beat.