It’s been a circuitous and strange musical evolution for the San Francisco trio Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
After storming onto the music scene with the gritty, effects-heavy guitars that permeated their tempestuous 2001 debut, B.R.M.C., as well as their criminally underrated ’03 follow-up, Take Them On, On Your Own, Peter Hayes and Robert Been ditched their original drummer, Nick Jago, and took a sonic left-turn with the acoustic folk rock of Howl, a move which left longtime fans wondering what indeed happened to their rock ‘n’ roll.
Jago rejoined the band briefly in 2007 for the uninspired and overblown Baby 81 before being quickly shown the door once again, replaced by the Raveonettes’ touring drummer, Leah Shapiro. Then things really got weird and rather woeful for BRMC. The murky and emotionless instrumental album, The Effects of 333, sounded like a band coming apart at the seams, or at the very least looking for direction and inspiration where none could be found. And while the group was touring behind 2010′s frustratingly uneven Beat The Devil’s Tattoo, Robert’s father, The Call‘s Michael Been, who had been serving as the band’s sound engineer for years, died of a heart attack backstage following a BRMC gig in Belgium.
But rather than splintering apart or disappearing entirely following that traumatic experience, BRMC took their time to regroup and refocus for their seventh album, Specter At The Feast, and it certainly shows. The songs fluidly blend the myriad of influences and sonic indulgences that have been the touchstone for the group over the years, without fully giving in to any of them blindly, the results of which churn with both inventiveness and raw emotion. Some of these tracks are understandably filled with wistful, stirring lyrics floating amid the fuzzed-out guitar haze the band generates. And it’s no surprise that the album’s first single is a raucous, inspired cover of The Call’s ‘Let The Day Begin‘, a bold, blustery musical salute to all that Been had meant to them.
But rather than wallow in their tragic loss over the course of the entire album, BRMC set out to instead use their new record as a way of ushering in a fresh creative phase, one where the band sounds locked in and back onto the volatile but vibrant musical track that got them noticed in the first place – just with years of well-earned wisdom and experience factored wisely into the mix.
The lead-off track, ‘Fire Walker’, perhaps plays a bit with the band’s unpredictable nature while riffing on their experimental instrumental phase, the song beginning with over a minute of ominous keyboard effects and languid electronic tones that gradually give way to a slinky bass line and hypnotic, slow-burning pulse which never fully unleashes the tension built up within.