Fifteen years and seven LPs into their career, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have had their share of ups and downs, but always seem to bounce back from the latter. Following 2007’s lukewarm album Baby 81 and the subsequent departure of drummer Nick Jago, BRMC were seemingly reinvigorated by new member Leah Shapiro, and came out with a proper return to form in 2010: Beat The Devil’s Tattoo. That year also saw the passing away of Michael Been – father of guitarist/singer Robert Been and a major contributor to their sound. Though the major loss may have cast some doubt on the group’s future, they’re stepping back into their usual, barely-lit spotlight with the new LP Specter At The Feast.
Though BRMC haven’t done much to actually diversify their sound after 2005’s Howl, this new effort actually finds them reaching out a bit more than normal, and it shows early on. The slow, sexy crawl of the bass-driven opener Fire Walker sets the mood in, but it’s more due to the keyboards in the background, which provide added texture to the otherwise-standard BRMC fare. On the second track, a cover of Let The Day Begin – originally by Michael Been’s former band The Call -, there’s a very clear, palpable emotional release that comes across immediately, and it serves not only as a beautiful tribute, but a way for them to move forward.
Occasionally, the album has its pace broken up, as the ballads come up in pairs and slow things down for a bit too long. But even if they are in detriment to the overall flow of tracklist, cuts like Lullaby and Some Kind of Ghost do play to the band’s melodic strengths, and wind up adding to the whole. It’s also worth noting that steps were taking in fleshing out the slow tracks, such as on the layering of gospel vocals and organ on Sometimes The Light, and the echoed guitars of the beautiful 8-minute closer Lose Yourself.
Thankfully, the album makes up for any excessive melancholy with the heavier tracks, building up menacing attacks like Hate The Taste and Funny Games without changing pace too abruptly. Although the rockers don’t bring much new to the table, the group sounds alive and invested enough in the songwriting, avoiding the general feeling of déjà vu that plagued Baby 81. On the occasion that a track might sound like something you’ve heard elsewhere in the band’s catalog – and that does happen here -, it will also be on par with some of their best work, instantly excusing the lack of innovation.
Specter At The Feast shares similarities with Beat The Devil’s Tattoo in the way that neither record plays too much on one particular side of BRMC’s sound, evening out the amount of songs that fit certain molds (such as Sell It, the usual track that alternates between verses and bursts of distorted guitar for five minutes, then combines both in the end). The main difference comes in each album’s density: Beat The Devil’s Tattoo carried some of the band’s finest moments put to tape, but felt overlong and difficult to go through in one sitting; meanwhile, Specter At The Feast has less cuts that stand out immediately, yet sounds like a properly self-contained, cohesive LP. Both feelings are deepened with repeated listens, but the latter tends to gain a slight edge for the listener that prefers the whole experience.
Though it might seem like a backhanded compliment, the few changes done by BRMC result in notable improvements to their music, even if they don’t always outdo Beat The Devil’s Tattoo. Where there are no major improvements, Specter At The Feast manages to maintain consistency and never lower the bar, giving something worthwhile to the casual listener who might be pushed away by some of the slower material at first, and certainly pleasing the devoted fans who’ve stuck around this long,.
Stream Specter At The Feast in full here.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.