As the Burning Hell toured People, its 2013 album, the praise that record earned from the European press was almost universal.
“There was one negative review that stuck with me,” Mathias Kom offers. “The gist of the review was that [the record] was too wordy. And I took that kind of personally—like, ‘But that’s my whole thing!’ I don’t know how to do songs in any other way. And in a fit of reactionary immaturity, I decided that the next record was going to be even wordier.”
Leap ahead a couple of years and the band’s next record, Public Library, is fittingly “the most extreme version of my kind of songwriting,” Kom admits. And, well, yep: The Burning Hell’s songs have always been verbose, funny and affecting, but Kom and the band clearly doubled down on their definitive traits across the album’s eight songs. One recounts MJ and Elvis living secretly in a Northern Ontario cabin (“Two Kings”): another finds the band comparing a touring low to a Cormac McCarthy novel (“The Road”). “Fuck The Government, I Love You” details a romance birthed from a New Year’s Eve house party. Some songs approach the breathlessness of syllable-packed hip hop in their delivery, others more spaciously weave their narratives. Both ways, the effect is of crisp, clever storytelling with instrumental dexterity to match.
“It was a challenge to myself to take the story-song further than I had before,” he recalls. “To not worry about lyrical density.”
It’s also been five years since the Burning Hell last made its way to Edmonton. Kom’s chatting, pre-tour, over the phone from St John’s, where two members of the band, Darren Browne and Jake Nicoll, make their permanent home. (Kom and clarinetist Ariel Sharratt are out in Prince Edward Island; bassist Nick Ferrio lives in Peterborough.) Europe and the UK have been the band’s touring grounds of choice the last few years. This time around, in honour of Public Library’s MO and title, the band managed to book a few EU dates in actual libraries.
“I tried to make it happen in Canada too, but I couldn’t find any libraries that were at all into the idea of having us play there,” Kom notes.
In fact, even though none of those library dates actually took place in Germany, that country really got on board with the idea.
“The German Library Association decided to take it on as something they wanted to promote,” Kom says with an audible grin. “We’re not playing in any libraries in Germany, but the German Library Association is kind of co-promoting the tour, which is awesome and strange.”
But back to letting go of restraints: in embracing his own penchant for verbosity, Kom found the making of Public Library a liberating experience.
“I had such a great time writing these songs,” he says. “It sounds like I put restraints on myself, but I just let myself go completely: If this turns out to be a six-minute song about a killer priest, great. It doesn’t matter. It was really freeing, and a lot of fun, to just stop caring about that. I just went with it.”
Mon, Jun 20 (8 pm)
The Burning Hell
With Kathryn Calder
The Buckingham, $12 in advance, $15 at the door