The blue-collar speed demons return faster-than-ever on their new "Hellbender" LP, released this spring.
For much of the past decade, Seattle’s turbocharged punk-rock misfits have been idling. Following the release of 2004’s “’Til the Livin’ End” and the birth of his daughter, Zeke frontman Blind Marky Felchtone switched into family mode, swapping club tours for local construction jobs, including working on the light rail.
The local vets didn’t go completely off the grid, playing spot dates here and there and dropping a handful of smaller releases often on European labels. But with his daughter now in her teens, Felchtone has fired up the Zeke engine again. The band’s resumed a heavy touring schedule, including a July 3 show with stoner metal mainstays Weedeater at the Crocodile, and releasing “Hellbender” — the band’s first album in 14 years — this spring. However, it wasn’t without a few hiccups.
“When the job finished,” he says of the light-rail gig, “basically my band was gone.”
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Core members, including co-founding drummer Donny Paycheck, had either moved on or had other obligations, so Felchtone first recruited early-years member Kurt Colfelt to play bass. “Everything just got a lot faster and more intense when Kurt got into the band initially, so it’s always been a good fit,” Felchtone says, noting Colfelt’s thrash-metal background.
After picking up Colfelt’s drummer buddy Dayne Porras and guitarist Kyle Whitefoot, the retooled Zeke set off to record a batch of “slower, heavier almost Black Sabbath-y type material” tentatively titled “Thunder in the Ozarks.” Sonically, it was more in line with the groove-oriented “’Til the Livin’ End,” which marked a departure from the Motörhead-on-amphetamines sound Zeke had been known for. But the slower stuff, conceived with the previous lineup, wasn’t working as well with the new guys, who were more accustomed to blitzkrieg tempos.
Though it may see light one day, the “Thunder in the Ozarks” material was shelved and the new-look Zeke started working on a fresh crop of songs more in line with the blue-collar punkers’ warp-speed sound of old. “I get bored really easy, man, to be honest with you,” Felchtone says. “I thought, let’s just write 20 brand-new songs and do a completely different album.”
Recorded with Colfelt’s childhood friend and studio wiz Jack Endino, the resulting “Hellbender” burns through 15 tracks in about 20 minutes, mixing hardcore combustibility with unbridled rock ‘n’ roll that could slide in anywhere in Zeke’s 25-year catalog. The churning “On the Road” — one of the few songs that isn’t blazingly fast — deploys what feels like an AC/DC riff reclaimed in a Southern punk bar, before the unrelenting “Working Man” speeds off down a dirt road to hell.
Another standout — both sonically and when glancing at the tracklist — is yet another burner titled “AR-15.” Released a month after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, perpetrated by a gunman using the very same semi-automatic rifle, the timing is questionable if not insensitive. But Felchtone, a Second Amendment supporter who’s not a fan of either political wing, says it’s not a comment on the current gun- control debate.
“Honestly, I wasn’t trying to send a message,” he says, noting the song was written before the debate intensified after the Parkland shooting. “After work, me and a couple friends used to go out to the peninsula and we would set up some targets and shoot, and I wrote a song about going out and doing that. It’s about as apolitical as it gets, but it doesn’t sound that way.”
Between its blue-collar ethos and punk/rock/metal amalgam, Zeke — which has never been an overtly political band — has never really fit in with any particular scene, and 25 years in, that hasn’t changed. It’s also helped their longevity, pulling in fans from a variety of crowds.
“We’ve always been outsiders, man,” Felchtone says. “We’ve never fit in. … I don’t care. I don’t need to be associated with any other band or genre of music. I think we can stand alone doing what we do. If you like us, well that’s great. If you don’t like us, well that’s great, too.”
Weedeater with Zeke. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 3; Crocodile, 2200 Second Ave., Seattle; $20, thecrocodile.com