BRMC expand their sound on 'Specter at the Feast'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
There’s an ominous feeling that fills the dead space as “Fire Walker,” the opening track of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s sixth album, Specter at the Feast lurks forward. It conjures up a slow burn, brooding and mean, and it commands attention.
For this band, though, such an opening track could be flippantly relegated to “par for the course” territory if it weren’t so well done. With the exception of 2005’s mostly-acoustic HOWL, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have worked within a spectrum of sounds and tempos, pacing their albums deliberately and exploring the framework of their self-built system. And even HOWL, as different as it sounded, still followed those same unwritten guidelines, in rhythm if not in amplification.
But through it all, there’s a near absolute dedication to a specific sound and style, and the freshness and originality is rooted out and found within those boundaries. If that sound were limited to three chords and a few well-placed screams, the band wouldn’t survive the time and toll of six albums and a handful of singles.
But that’s not what Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has done. They have created and work within a template, for sure, but it’s one that’s equal parts intellectual heft and teenage anguish. They’ve drawn as much in their career from Woody Guthrie as they have from the Stooges. The guitars are heavy and distorted and doom-laden, and there is such a weight behind everything, even in the lighter moments, that everything they do feels like an event.
An easy starting point could be “Hate the Taste,” which features a smack and thump so primal and familiar as belonging to Peter Hayes and BRMC, yet doesn’t venture into a routine of, “this is the rocker,” or “this is the screamer.” It’s tough, aggressive and biting; the fact that they’ve had other songs in the past with the same descriptors becomes irrelevant when actually listening.
“Teenage Disease” turns up that same vibe, sending guitars and amps into overdrive under tightly wound vocals. But this isn’t an album of arena screamers. The ghostly, rootsy howl that the band became famous for in the middle section of their career returns as well with “Some Kind of Ghost,” a minimalist spiritual more at home in a railroad yard than a church.
It’s all wrapped up in twin-epics “Sell It” and “Lose Yourself,” appropriately sprawling tunes that round out a record that never feels short on ambition or purpose. They’re elegantly paced, churning and, most of all, patient. That patience is on display throughout Specter at the Feast, of course, thoughtfully handing out doses of chaos and calm, rage and peace.
When music is made that feels that momentous and that new despite more than a decade of work behind it, it’s no easy feat, and it goes well beyond a mere trick. It’s music with a voice, music as an impassioned plea to be heard. It’s music that deserves to be heard, and demands as much.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org