by Kalyn Oyer
From the very start, San Francisco's Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has positively oozed rock 'n' roll, thanks in part to their guitar-heavy Brit rock influences and in part to their shiny black leather jackets. When they recorded "Whatever Happened to My Rock 'n' Roll," one of their debut disc's best tracks, it was less of a question and more of a declaration, a promise to keep the spirit of alive. Over the course of the band's 15-year-long career spanning seven albums, BRMC has managed to do just that.
That's not to say they haven't strayed over the years. Case in point: 2005's gospel- and roots-driven Howl, arguably their best work. "Everything changes," says BRMC bassist Robert Levon Been, who, along with singer-guitarist Peter Hayes, is an original member of the band. "It's the same as with anything. You're a little smarter, a little dirtier, a little prettier, and, apparently, continually less likely to die young." However, some things don't change. And in the case of BRMC, the band latched onto a core sound with their self-titled 2001 debut and never let go.
BRMC's latest record, 2013's Specter at the Feast, a collection that Been says explores "life, death, wreckage, rainfall, beasts, believers, masks, gods, bikes, blues, sharks, shadows, zealots, belonging, chrome, nothing," could easily stand side-by-side with 2003's Take Them On, On Your Own, 2007's Baby 81, or pretty much anything else they've recorded. (Even the rootsy Howl still has that indistinguishable Black Rebel Motorcycle Club sound.) Specter at the Feast is spacey and grungy, hard-driving and haunting, psychedelic and poppy. The lead-off track "Fire Walker," in particular, shows off Been, Hayes, and drummer Leah Shapiro at their Black Rebel best. The bass drones in the background like crooked footsteps passing through the fog, while the eerie tone is enhanced by the echo of floating harmonies rising above the flames. It's a good opener for a good album by a band that has made one good album after another.
For Been, the songs the band has made over the course of its career blend together into a unifying blur of noise when BRMC takes the stage. "It's all just firehouse noise set to a beat," Been says. "It's impossible to tell in a room full of smoke and screams which three minutes you like the best. That's what also makes live performances so exciting."