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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - 'Specter at the Feast' Review

Garage-Rock Trio Pay Homage to the Dearly Departed

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


brmc specter at the feast

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - 'Specter at the Feast'

Photo courtesy Vagrant.
An album consumed by grief, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Specter at the Feast is a haunted affair. Arguably the trio’s dreamiest (but also hardest-hitting) work, the disc may be jet-black in tone, but its despair rarely tips into melodrama. Instead, Specter at the Feast is the sound of a band exorcising their sadness through precise, compelling tunes that hit with controlled fury. You don’t need to know the backstory to appreciate the album’s power, though: It’s all right there coming at you through the speakers.

Grieving With Striking Songs

Specter at the Feast is the band’s first album recorded since the death of Michael Been, frontman for the Call and father of BRMC bassist/vocalist Robert Levon Been, in 2010. Michael was closely connected to BRMC, even producing their previous album, Beat the Devil’s Tattoo. The trio pay tribute to him most explicitly in their cover of the Call’s “Let the Day Begin,” an optimistic song about fresh starts, and the rest of Specter at the Feast continues along in the same vein, mourning the dearly departed but also piloting a path forward emotionally. Because this is Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the songs are draped in elegant bursts of garage-rock feedback and Goth-like undertones, but the directness of the arrangements is consistently striking.

Embracing the Darkness

Take a song like “Lullaby.” Though clearly a ballad about separation, the mixture of Leah Shapiro’s drill-sergeant-tight drumming and the cascading guitars gives the sadness a taut edge, balancing melancholy with perseverance. Been may sound anguished, but there’s also grit in his vocal delivery. His musical partner, guitarist/vocalist Peter Hayes, tackles the theme in a different way on the up-tempo “Hate the Taste,” snarling guitars and echoed vocals mimicking a lost soul’s search for some sort of escape. Specter at the Feast won’t let its creators get down in the mouth. Again and again, the trio transform gloom into aggression. Oddly enough, BRMC defeat the darkness by embracing it, turning it into a weapon they can utilize to produce captivating music.

Still Standing

When they started out in the early 2000s, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club exuded a cocky youthfulness that suggested sex and danger. (It seemed appropriate that they named themselves after Marlon Brando’s gang in the teen-rebel anthem The Wild One.) But as time has passed, Hayes and Been have sharpened their attack, stripping away some of that youthful bravado for darker, tougher songs that hit deeper. With that in mind, Specter at the Feast is well-timed in their evolution. Though the loss of Been’s father is unquestionably tragic, this band have arrived at a moment where they have the experience and the chops to do justice to such a massive personal blow. Whether it’s the spooky keyboard-driven “Some Kind of Ghost” or the rumbling anxiety of “Fire Walker,” the album’s sentiments are nuanced, prickly and fully felt. If previously Hayes and Been’s whispery vocals may have come across as mere affectation, on Specter at the Feast they’re genuinely earned. These guys sound like they’ve been crushed and battered by what life has thrown at them, and yet they’re still standing.

A Farewell ... and a New Beginning

The album ends with “Lose Yourself,” an eight-and-a-half-minute slow burner that seems to be about the importance of shedding your conception of yourself in order to find the truer you that you’re meant to be. Over flickering guitars that rise up out of the background for the shimmering chorus, Been could be biding a final farewell to his father or to that time in his life when father and son were still together. Truthfully, “Lose Yourself” could be about other things entirely, but it does very much feel like the end of something -- and the beginning of something new. Older, sadder, wiser, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have made a beautiful record with Specter at the Feast. It probably wasn’t easy to make, but they made the most of their dark nights of the soul.

'Specter at the Feast' - Best Tracks:

“Lose Yourself” (Purchase/Download)
“Lullaby” (Purchase/Download)
“Returning” (Purchase/Download)
“Fire Walker” (Purchase/Download)
“Let the Day Begin” (Purchase/Download)

Release date – March 19, 2013

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