In 2010, Robert Levon Been’s father Michael died of a heart attack during Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s set at Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium. He was not only the father of the one of the lead vocalists, but Michael was also a mentor to his son’s band. Since then, the band had been in mourning while working on their 7th studio album. The recording process functioned as a grieving period, and three years after the tragic loss, BRMC emerged with Specter at the Feast. In a fitting tribute, the death of Been’s father led to the rawest, most emotional, and arguably best material the band has ever produced.
The album opens with a dramatic ambience before a Been’s bass and drummer Leah Shapiro tear into the bleak expanse of sound. The gloomy atmosphere of the song sets the tone of the rest of the album. This is a band that is pissed off at the world and it shows right away. “Fire Walker” fades out to the last few rips of dark distortion and leads into a cover of Been’s late father’s band The Call. On “Let the Day Begin,” Black Rebel Motorcycle begins to make a case for why they should be playing arenas. Covers are hard to do, but with the emotion behind the song and the band’s sheer determination to make a great album in memory of their mentor, I could easily see their version of “Let the Day Begin” echoing around some of the biggest venues in the country. It’s easily the best song on the record. BRMC has done some impressive work in the past, but a fiery passion has been reignited on Specter at the Feast.
The next string of songs is about the cheeriest the band will get on this album. “Returning,” “Lullaby,” and “Hate the Taste” prove that the hurt they feel from the loss of Michael Been is there, but they won’t let it dominate their entire sound. They keep the heavy distortion and attitude, but seem to be having more fun with these three songs. However, things kick into overdrive on the next two tracks. The pissed off mentality comes back and the band shreds through “Rival” and “Teenage Disease.” The lyrics are just as volatile as the malicious guitars behind them as Peter Hayes screams “I’d rather die than be living like you!” The song is the most venomous and angry the band gets on the record, so they chose to place the two slowest songs immediately after “Teenage Disease” which is an understandable decision, but still puts the brakes on the album.
After the slower pace of “Some Kind of Ghost” and “Sometimes the Light,” Black Rebel Motorcycle Club goes for the big finish with the final three tracks of Specter at the Feast. The band gets pleasantly heavy on “Sell It” and “Funny Games” which will make a great pick me up midway through their live setlists. This duo is one of a few songs pairings on the record that lead right into each other which contributes to the album’s strong flow. The closing track “Lose Yourself” once again nails the arena rock feel. At the risk of insulting the band and its fans, this track almost sounds like a beefed up Coldplay towards the end. I mean this as a compliment because I personally love Chris Martin and company. The last minute of “Lose Yourself” sounds very similar to Coldplay’s “Fix You” with a significant boost in testosterone.
Not being a huge Black Rebel Motorcycle Club fan, I really enjoyed this album and its significance in the story of the band. While it may not be on my personal year’s end lists, fans of good ol’ fashioned rock and roll will absolutely love this album and veteran fans of the band will enjoy it even more. Having overcome such a tragic loss, it’s nice to see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club back.
You can catch Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on May 14 at Turner Hall Ballroom.
Check out the video for "Returning" below.