The survival of The Burning Hell depends on one man, Canadian songwriter Mathias Kom. For he is the sole ever present figure in a constantly changing line-up over the past decade.
The band's website lists 28 names of people who have, at one time or another, played on a Burning Hell record or been part of the touring entourage.
For this album this collective is downsized to a relatively modest trio with Kom being joined by long-time collaborators Ariel Sharratt (bass clarinet, drums, vocals) and Darren Browne (bass guitar, bouzouki).
I was dismissive of the band's last album - Library - feeling that the self consciously literary references were too clever by half. The same show-offy tendencies are evident in the songs of this latest collection but I appreciate the humorous intent a little better this time around.
As with other prominent male wordsmiths, I'm thinking of smart hipsters like Jonathan Richman, Stephen Malkmus and Stephin Merritt, Kom's deadpan songs reflect a comic yet sardonic view of the modern world. For the band's eighth LP he directs his barbed lyrics to the subject of an imagined apocalypse, finding black comedy in this dark subject.
The album was recorded with Al Harle at the Big Jelly studio in Ramsgate; an unglamorous location in keeping with the band's quirkily downbeat image.
You only have to watch Kom and Sharratt larking about on an English beach in the video to The River (Never Freezes Anymore) to understand that they are not setting out to be trend setters. Kom confesses that "I look better in a parka than a bathing suit" in this nostalgic song of cold winters and young love.
A prime example of Kom's ability to get laughs from unlikely subjects can be heard on Nurse & Patient in which a victim of police brutality turns the head of a male nurse: "I fell for you in your blood-stained dress".
Other times the wordplay seems overdone. The Babysitter, is a convoluted and confusing song that seems to centre on saving the world from a new Hitler. The surreal lyrics include references to The Nazis, Glasgow kisses and putting the 'ass' in fiasco.
Both The Last Night and The Troll feature Ariel Sharratt on lead vocals. The inclusion of a female perspective, invites further comparisons to The Magnetic Fields. In the latter song a blogger in a bunker warns of an impending doomsday and boasts of inciting "digital storm clouds" which gather up above.
Sharratt also appears on the closing track, Supermoon, dueting with Kom in an ironic celebration of the passing of old world values.
The Burning Hell remain an entertaining novelty act but, when not being overly indulgent, this record shows them to be capable of sharply observed perspectives on our mad world.