“Let’s explode together, rock insanity!” - Fire
I knew when I got up this morning I would end up writing about an LA metal band, and I really thought I would end up talking about Marq Torien, former synth-popper turned Bulletboy, but where would that get us, really? The fact is, the late 80s were lousy with lower-tier glam hopefuls that quickly became nopefuls during the grunge tsunami and Torien’s been hobbling around in the suburban nostalgia market for the past three decades, hoping each new Bulletboys record is gonna pull him out of the existential dread of playing Smooth Up In Ya for a few dozen middle-aged dudes in Connecticut somewhere on a Tuesday night for the rest of his natural life.
As depressing as that all is it might be worth our time if there was anything more to the Bulletboys than a couple hipper-than-expected cover songs (O’Jays and Tom Waits), but there isn’t, and it sets a bad precedent. What’s next, Danger Danger? Firehouse? Funhouse? Antix? Can’t do it, not in a scene that gave us superior sleaze like The Joneses or The Ultras or Blackboard Jungle or genuinely pioneering (and compellingly weird) glam-metal like Hellion.
There is so much nonsense surrounding this band that I might as well include it all, because at least some of it has to be true. One thing I know to be a fact is that Hellion are really the unsung heroes of early flash metal. The ever-evolving cast of characters that did time in lead screamer Ann Boleyn’s rock’n’roll asylum eventually filled out the rosters of half the flash metal bands in Hollywood, and their distinctive mix of sleaze and power would influence many a metal band throughout the 80s. Ann’s tough, take-no-lip attitude undoubtedly inspired many a female rocker, as well. Plus, she could SING. Plus, her band had great songs. So, why weren’t they famous?
Tough luck and haunted houses, mostly.
Here’s what happened. It was 1980 or so, and there was this rock singer, Ann Boleyn. Life was a little weird for Annie so far- she narrowly avoided the affections of serial killer Ted Bundy (maybe), her grandpa was a personal friend of Alistair Crowley’s, and she was prone to witchy-womanhood herself. But at the time, she was just a solo blooze howler tryin’ to make a buck in Tujunga, California.
No, wait, first there was Ann Boleyn, Queen of England, who had six fingers on one hand, and who was found guilty of adultery and executed by sword in 1536. Immediately after her death, her ghost began to haunt the Tower of London, eventually driving poor King Henry — who was, after all, the fucker who framed her — quite mad. She still haunts the tower. Go there and see for yourself, if ya want. Several centuries later, Queen Ann, the “Queen of Hell”, as she became known after wandering around with her head under her arm for a cuppla hundred years, was reincarnated as a blooze singer in Tujunga. Said blooze singer was probably someone else entirely before that fateful day, but it hardly matters now. Anyway, when the blues failed to pay the bills (and queens have a lot of bills), Ann decided to become a rock star. Which meant she needed a band. Word on the street has it that she auditioned for the Runaways after Joan split, but that obviously didn’t happen, so she scanned the classifieds, searching for a band in need of a singer.
Some reports have the band gigging around town as Beowulf - there most definitely was an LA Beowulf around that time, so that’s probably the case. Others say the band was originally called the Alice Cooper-inspired “Ded Babies”. At any rate, this band o’ rockers teamed up with Queen Ann, and called themselves Hellion. And it was good. For about 5 minutes.
Hellion practiced in a haunted house in their hometown of Tujunga. It was called “The Annie-Ville Horror House”. That’s trouble right there. Ann also made all her bandmates take a sacred oath of loyalty to her, which so freaked out her original bass player that he quit the band and joined the priesthood. And so on. Despite a perpetually freaked-out band, Ann got Hellion’ s music released on a variety of early LA metal comps, including a so-rare-it-might-not-even-exist split 7” with Bitch on punk label Mystic. They also threw a lotta parties at the horror house. Bands playing, cops showin’ up, all that. And they were not adverse to cunning stunts — one newspaper clip collaged onto the back cover of their self-titled mini EP concerns a 1983 gig at the Troubadour club in LA (headlining over Social Distortion!), where they made a grand entrance — by rolling down the avenue in a tank. This is a band that was broke, remember. That, my friends, is showmanship.
Through varying amounts of voodoo, talent, self-promotion, and sheer luck, Hellion eventually landed their first record deal with UK metal label Music For Nations, which resulted in their 1983 self-titled mini-LP, which remains their defining moment as a band. Quite frankly, it’s a fucking monster. Boleyn’s got a fantastically raspy growl and the band had a raw, ragged, punky edge that still sounds like it can draw blood. Despite her glammy, leather n’ lace image, Boleyn attacked the material with feral intensity, and the band just cooked. There are jazzy flourishes here and there that would suggest ambition beyond the primacy on display here, but as an early flashpoint for the burgeoning glam-slam movement, it’s a full on, shoot-out-the-lights rager.
The EP was a minor hit in the UK, and the band gigged England, where Ronnie James Dio happened to catch ‘em. He was so impressed with Boleyn that he offered to produce their next record. Never happened. Ronnie J did produce a few Hellion demo tracks, but the project fizzled. Meanwhile, the band was poised to tour Europe with Hanoi Rocks in ’84, and then Vince killed Razzle, and the tour, dead.
Soon after, Hellion, Mach 1, called it quits, and Ann founded her own record label, New Renaissance which eventually released many seminal albums by hard and thrashy bands like Genocide, Medieval, Artillery, Executioner, At War, and Whiplash. She tried many different line-ups for Hellion in the ensuing years, but none really stuck for more than an album and she spent a fair amount of time our there in the reeds (and in law school).
There were rumours and wild allegations throughout the 90s that Anne had died or gone crazy or quit rock’n’roll forever. None of it was true, however, and in the past few years she’s had a steady Hellion line-up in operation who are playing gigs and making music again. Not a bad ending for the reincarnated Queen of Hell.
PS: Is this Marq Torien’s finest hour? Before the Bulletboys, Torien played guitar for Motown bass-poppin’ Devo-tees Kagny and the Dirty Rats.
Next week: Letters from London