Hell Below/Stars Above
Like ZZ Top or AC/DC, the Toadies have become almost instantly identifiable. But it’s not because the Dallasites have flooded the market with similar-sounding albums. Instead their breakthrough single, 1995’s “Possum Kingdom,” has enjoyed a Spam-like shelf life. It has served as one of the top recurrent tracks on alternative, active, and mainstream rock formats for the better part of six years—the same time it has taken to release Hell Below/Stars Above. As belated follow-ups often do, it rings of now-or-never urgency, but time and familiarity haven’t dulled the punch of the Toadies’ creepy narratives, muscular hooks, and unfettered aggression. It’s a formula that hinges largely on singer Todd Lewis’ lung capacity, and his holler is no less hostile this time. And while the title track briefly breaks form by starting like the Clash and finishing like Humble Pie, it’s the business-as-usual approach that yields the biggest buzzes—”Motivational,” “Heel,” and “You’ll Come Down” find the Toadies hitting their stride harder, faster, and sharper than before. Time may not have made them a different band, but Hell Below/Stars Above proves it has made them a better one.