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Hellworms
Far below the earth, beyond the fiery gates of eternal damnation, the Hellworms pound out tuneful noise that's about as underground as it gets. Not unlike the San Francisco band's previous incarnation as Victim's Family -- one of punk rock's great subterranean acts of the late '80s and early '90s -- the Hellworms fuse a caustic, nihilistic attitude with intensely musical chops. Among all the practitioners of riff-heavy sonic aggression, there's not a band in their class.

Of course, this singularity not only sets them apart from the thousands of sheeplike, so-called punk rock groups on the planet, but also alienates them from thousands of sheeplike, so-called punk rock fans. But after a 14-year performance and recording career with zero above-ground recognition -- first as Victim's Family, then Saturn's Flea Collar -- guitarist/singer Ralph Spight and bassist Larry Boothroyd (with new drummer Joaquin Spengemann) harbor no illusions, firing up their debut album, Crowd Repellent (Alternative Tentacles), with saucy, cynical upbraidings like "We're From Manchester," "Cock Rock Superstar," and "Sellout!" While it's sometimes difficult to distinguish the group's sincere and confrontational lyrics from their ironic and self-deprecating ones, the trio's musical intentions are never ambiguous. "Mercedes to Hades," a sleek, high-powered, sophisticated instrumental, says it all: They're burrowing full-throttle toward the darkest lairs where nothing but furious sounds grow. If you can stand the heat, come along for the ride.

-- Sam Prestianni

Hellworms perform with Dead Lazlo's Place and Nuclear Rabbit on Wednesday, Dec. 30, at 10 p.m. at the Covered Wagon, 917 Folsom (at Fifth Street), S.F. Tickets are $4; call 974-1585.

 
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