What makes the Koffin Kats’ latest album good is more what it isn't than what it is. Because though it is a reasonably enjoyable disc by any measure, Forever for Hire isn’t an entirely derivative and formulaic psychobilly album, the likes of which appear all too frequently in punk rock.
Hailing from Motor City, Michigan, it makes some sense that the trio wouldn't pepper their compositions with the same surf-styled selections of California psychobilly bands like Tiger Army and Stellar Corpses. In the psychobilly equation, the Koffin Kats clearly put their punk before their rockabilly, blasting thick power chord progressions front and center, while the upright bass of Vic Victor generally takes a backseat, which is appropriate since he’s also handling lead vocal duties. Though Victor does take the same over-the-top, Elvis-impersonating approach as many in the deathpunk/psycho scene, the vocals end up sounding more like NoMeansNo than Nick 13. And while a good chunk of the disc seems more Misfits than Nekromantix, there are a couple cuts that serve as a reminder of the band’s rockabilly influence. “Saw My Friend Explode Today” opens fairly flat, but eventually kicks it into a nearly upstroke guitar rhythm verse and a punishingly heavy bridge.
Lyrically, the Koffin Kats put forth what’s generally expected in the genre (“Asylum,” “Graveyard Tree Zero,” The Final Day”) but end up blending the traditional Halloween/B-movie themes with their Detroit roots in “Small Block & Flathead”: “If you’re carburetor county jalopy junction bound / Then you’re looking for some madness down in the south... Gasoline mixed with formaldehyde / Genetic hotrod mutation come alive." The album’s title track showcases its strength from the gang chorus within, and the final cut “How It Ends” features one of the catchiest vocal melodies on the CD, even though it lacks any real lyrics.
What Forever for Hire sacrifices in twang and hooks, it makes up for in uncharacteristically unique song compositions -- at least for psychobilly. Wrapped in a utilitarian digipak with action shots from Diana Price and Minnesota punk photographer Adam Degross, the Koffin Kats have delivered one of the better psychobilly efforts of the year -- even while downplaying some of the elements that give psychobilly its name.