Psychedelic rock fans everywhere can rejoice with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s new album, “Specter At the Feast.” The album, which dropped on March 19, breaks the band’s three year stint of silence following the death of singer and bassist Robert Levon Been’s father, Michael Been (a founding member of the 1980s San Francisco band The Call), who tragically died of a heart attack backstage in 2010 during BRMC’s performance at the Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium.
“We’re not writing literally about it, but we’re not ignoring it. There’s a balance—the light and the dark of losing someone you love,” Been stated in an interview with William Goodman of Fuse T.V. “A lot of people just think, ‘Oh, that’s really depressing dark and bleak.’ But if you’ve gone through anything like that you know that there’s an enormous amount of gratitude and insight. It’s a heavy thing to handle because it’s pulling you apart in extremes. We tried to show that in the record. Those two extremes are alive and well.”
“Specter at the Feast” is the follow up to BRMC’s last album, “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo.” Fans will hear a distinct difference between these two albums that signify the band’s evolution over the past few years. “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” has a more upbeat and unforgivingly in-your-face vibe. Songs like “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” and “Bad Blood” attack the ears directly with an onslaught of straight up rock and roll. “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” feels more like a collection of unrelated songs, but “Specter At the Feast” feels like a whole piece album that is best appreciated when listening to it in its entirety from start to finish. The first song on the album, “Fire Walker,” introduces the ears to a dissonant sound that makes listeners feel like they’re being carried on an aural bed throughout the song. It begins with an eerie, but inviting atmospheric sound, only to be broken by BRMC’s enchanting rhythms punctuated with heavy bass and drums. “Fire Walker” sets the table for the album’s strangely awesome fusion of rock and roll with the free spirited world of psychedelic bliss. The album’s second song and single, “Let the Day Begin,” commemorates Been’s father—it is a cover of a song by The Call. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think about what it must have meant for Been to lose his father, who clearly played in intricate role in his life and BRMC. He was band’s mentor, sound technician, occasionally second guitar player, and proclaimed “fourth member” of the band, according to Goodman.
Personal undertones aside, “Let the Day Begin” is incredibly upbeat, overwhelmingly enthusiastic and emotionally stirring. Been triumphantly broadcasts these hopeful lyrics in front of a steady diet of Peter Hayes’s rocking electric guitar, Been’s booming bass, and the thundering drums from none other but the rock goddess drummer herself, Leah Shapiro.
“Specter At the Feast” is notable for its habit of constantly fluctuating between heavy tones and light, relaxing sound waves. For example, the deeply delicate song “Returning” immediately follows the upbeat single of “Let the Day Begin.” Indeed, “Specter At the Feast” isn’t about one sound or one mood, but rather a collection of clashing emotions. My favorite songs on the album happen to be the deeper, impactful songs like “Lose Yourself’,” “Let the Day Begin,” “Returning,” “Lullaby,” and “Sometimes the Light.” It’s also an album of songs that, I feel, are meant to be heard live.
As Been said, “This record took a long time to pull together…I think we all reached the breaking point after our last tour and needed to step back for a bit. These songs brought us back to life and gave us a second chance. I’ve never been more excited to play an album live before, these songs were born to be loud.”
I completely agree with Been. I saw the amazingly gifted trio perform at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz over winter break and it was everything I hoped it would be. They lived up to the praise of being a tremendous live band, playing the type of live music that drives itself through you. As a huge fan I am very satisfied with the album overall. I don’t think it’s going to conquer the air waves any time soon, but that’s part of the novel beauty that is BRMC. I think the album is definitely worth a listen to, even if you’re not yet a fan. Just take a bite out of the Feast, and see how it tastes.