When OBN IIIs released their third studio album, Third Time to Harm, earlier this year, critics swooned over the Austin, Texas, quintet’s muscular hard-rock histrionics. But a subtle disregard undermined much of that praise: as the influential Pitchfork put it, Third Time to Harm slotted well into the “townie music” sub-genre that “binged on masculinity and guitar heroics” and specialized in songs “ideal for pushing the speed limit, lifting weights, getting in bar fights, [and] flirtin’ with disaster” in the late 1970s.
Those a little more experienced with OBN IIIs’ deep discography and legendary live show snickered at such simplistic calculations, though. See them in person, get screamed at, spit on and shoved by intimidating lead singer Orville Bateman Neeley III (OBN III, get it?), and then you’ll get it, they claimed. But even those fervent supporters couldn’t accurately convey the allure of such no-bullshit energy. Imagine The Stooges’ proto-punk mashed up with Ted Nugent or Van Halen’s technical shred, then filtered through The Misfits’ nihilistic death cloak, and you might come close. Or just put on OBN IIIs’ 2013 concert recording Live In San Francisco and feel the pain as the band bashes its way through a skull-crushing 27-minute live set, Neeley incessantly heckling the audience throughout.
But OBN IIIs are not your typical stoned-out garage band. Third Time to Harm‘s middle chunk flirts with proggy sophistication. This is not rock music for the weak-spirited, the boneheaded or the 20something “townie” looking to get drunk and spin rubber on a Friday night. This is ominous, gutsy, often antagonistic music — that just happens to boast jaw-dropping guitar solos and lyrics you can shout along to.
Yet just when it seemed like OBN IIIs had mastered their own brand of bloody, brawny hard rock, they went and changed course, paring down to a quartet. “We have a different lineup now, and I’m playing guitar and singing instead of just being the guy in front slobbering on the audience,” Neeley tells Folio Weekly. “We also have a bunch of new material that people haven’t heard. I don’t know if worried is the right word, but I’m not going to get my hopes up about whether people will like the new direction of the band. It’s still hard rock, but it’s different.”