By Matt Kelly
It was around this time three years ago that I heard Prince Daddy & The Hyena for the first time. I was cruising around my hometown with my best friends and blasting music with the windows down without a care in the world. Nothing was more exhilarating for a bunch of 17 year old suburbanites who just got their licenses. Toward the end of the night, someone decided to play “I Lost My Life”, the opening track to Prince Daddy & The Hyena’s second LP Cosmic Thrill Seekers. What I didn’t know at that moment was that I was about to listen to my favorite band for the first time. Hearing lead singer Kory Gregory’s signature blood curdling screams over an acoustic guitar was equal parts jarring and fascinating. Once the acoustic instrumental gave way to crashing electric guitars and drums that matched the intensity of the vocals, I had fallen in love. Prince Daddy’s punk party anthems about weed and feeling inadequate were right up my alley in terms of music taste and relatability. I would have been just fine with them releasing the same type of music for the rest of their careers, but Prince Daddy is a band with greater aspirations than sticking to a formula. With the recent release of their self-titled third LP via Pure Noise Records, Prince Daddy & The Hyena have shown that they are maturing into the band they were always meant to become.
Prince Daddy & The Hyena is a journey that began in November 2018. The band was driving home at the end of a tour during a blizzard when their van slid off the highway and crashed into a snow plow. Thankfully, everyone was okay, but Kory Gregory came away from that crash with a haunting thought: the undeniable truth that life is impermanent and that we do not know what comes next. Also known as thanatophobia, death anxiety had plagued Gregory’s mind, and it was in this state that Prince Daddy & The Hyena was written. The result: a concept album about the fear of death.
The opening track “Adore The Sun” lures in the listener with its ethereal sound complete with uncharacteristically clean vocals. In this track he is struggling to appreciate the beauty in life because of the dark thoughts that sprout from his obsession with death. As it comes to a close, the track seamlessly transitions into the punk rager “A Random Exercise in Impermanence (The Collector)”, indicating that Gregory’s fear of death has won over and the true journey of this record has begun. It sounds like a car crash as he belches “the passenger almost died today”, which alludes to the accident that started it all, but also to a character from Cosmic Thrill Seekers called the passenger which is an extension of Gregory himself. In addition to the passenger, this track introduces a recurring character called the collector, representing death and/or depression in corporal form. Throughout the album, a lot of the previously mentioned “dark thoughts” are portrayed through this new character.
The run of tracks that follow only continue to perpetuate the idea of a car crash as you are whipped back and forth between slow, fast, heavy, and light sounds. Regardless of the style that Prince Daddy goes for, the lyrics are sure to be dark. Weezer-esque “Jesus F*****g Christ” gets bitter about religion, and “Something Special” sounds like a fun campfire sing-along but lyrically describes being followed and harassed by (what I assume to be) the collector. Gregory sings, “As if a puppeteer, he whispers in my ear / ‘You goddamn kids, I’m the son of a bitch who makes it hard to sleep / I’m never gonna leave’ / Dear God, just leave”. Both these tracks explore the obsessive nature of Gregory’s mind; no matter how hard he tries to avoid his thoughts about death, they always come back. For a moment, however, a glimpse of optimism is expressed in the emotionally intelligent “El Dorado”. This track opens with a synth-led verse that references “Adore The Sun” to reiterate that Gregory struggles to appreciate the beauty in life. This time around, he attempts to break free from the shackles of his mental health. Ripping electric guitars cut through the synths as he sings “Let’s give it a fresh start tomorrow / let’s try to shine like el dorado / symmetry don’t come easily”. The chorus sounds like it could be from an entirely different song, but Prince Daddy finds a way to make these different sounds mesh perfectly. “El Dorado” is the first of many highlights in this chaotic LP.
“Hollow, As You Figured” eliminates any hint of optimism from the previous track as Gregory admits, “Well I found my god and he’s hollow as you figured / He’s just one big black rodent that chews apart my liver and spreads black mold”. I interpreted this god as another instance of the collector, this time influencing Gregory to turn to alcohol as a form of escapism relating to his death anxiety. With the collector now as his god, he continues to explain, “If he tells me to hurt myself / Damn it, I’ll give it hell / Who am I to disobеy?” This track is heavy, theatrical, and creates an unsettling atmosphere; put that all together and you have a song that feels like a horror movie. This fervent track features a fiery guitar solo at the end that is likely to spawn the most intense mosh pits at their shows.
Following “Hollow” comes “Curly Q”, an affectionate and melodic track that is in the running for one of my favorite songs of all time. Gregory wrote this one as a warning to his nephew about the world he is being brought into. Between anxiety about the changing climate and his personal experiences with mental health, Gregory fears for his nephew’s future and wants him to understand that he can find ways to get by in the midst of all the ugly he will inevitably endure. The weight of the emotions behind this track are translated perfectly by the music, as it is instrumentally gentle and lyrically personal. “Curly Q” finishes with a sentimental guitar solo that contrasts the intensity of that from the previous track. This trend of epic end-of-song guitar solos continues for the next three tracks and makes for some of the best moments of this 42 minute LP, especially in “Keep Up That Talk”. The true highlight of Prince Daddy & The Hyena is the slow burn 9 minute track “Black Mold”. Written about a time when Gregory’s depression nearly cost him his life, this track utilizes the collector as a way to confront his darkest thoughts. It is a heartbreaking yet genius piece of writing that is perfectly in line with everything that this record is about. It opens with a haunting voicemail from an old friend of Gregory’s played over an eerie drawn out synth and a guitar riff reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Creep”. The vocal performance is what really steals the show here. Each line is delivered in a way that perfectly conveys the emotions behind the words, making for a hard-hitting final product. Despite this feeling like a conclusion to the album, there is still one more track to discuss. After the emotionally dense “Black Mold”, “Baby Blue” flips the switch and leaves the listener with the sentiment that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It feels like a glimpse into the future where all the darkness explored in this record has been worked through and life feels normal again. For being the final track in an album that focuses on death and depression, “Baby Blue” fits surprisingly well, and implores the listener to ponder the message that Prince Daddy & The Hyena is trying to send.
Overall, Prince Daddy & The Hyena is a phenomenal album. Prince Daddy successfully explored a myriad of ways that Gregory’s thanatophobia impacted his life, making for a coherent concept album. They also took every opportunity to experiment with their sound throughout the 13 tracks, and nailed it each time. This caused the album to be so diverse that the next step in their evolution is impossible to predict. Thankfully, this is not a threat to Prince Daddy & The Hyena’s future as this album serves as proof that they thrive on unpredictability.
Favorite Tracks: “Black Mold”, “Curly Q”, “Shoelaces”, “Keep Up That Talk”, “Hollow, As You Figured”, “El Dorado”