Traveling through the Underworld
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club aren’t quite as rebellious as the moniker implies. Sure, the Los Angeles-based band’s sixth album, Beat the Devil’s Tattoo, has moments of riotous rock ‘n’ roll and churning blues anthems drawn from the annals of generations of classic rock. But their tough exterior sometimes weakens between tracks.
Beat the Devil’s Tattoo vacillates between blues stomps resonant with heavy percussion and layers of fuzzed-out guitars (“Beat the Devil’s Tattoo”), and much less adventurous material (“Conscience Killer”). Shuffling minor tonalities on the album’s title track and “River Styx” would have Hades himself tapping his foot to the slinking bass behind the raw energy in Peter Hayes’ gritty guitars and drummer Leah Shapiro’s driving beats.
BRMC have a reputation for genre blending—from the folksy blues of Howl (2005) to the spacey instrumentals on The Effects of 333 (2008), the band has fused musical styles into its own Americana mash-up. Beat the Devil’s Tattoo is no different; acoustic country-influenced ballads creep in amid throbbing rock guitar riffs. “Sweet Feeling” gives Hayes a chance to exercise his vocal cords, hitting dulcet high notes to the accompaniment of a scratchy harmonica. Behind the warm acoustic guitar is an echo that (appropriately) makes the music feel like it’s expanding past the confines of a studio to an open dusky sky. The country atmosphere continues on “The Toll,” a soulful ballad featuring elegantly floating backup vocals from Nashville singer/songwriter Courtney Jaye.
While much of the territory on Beat the Devil’s Tattoo feels well-trodden, songs like “Long Way Down,” with its funereal swaying piano, show flashes of the band’s creative versatility. Among the underworld imagery and percussive soundscape of fuzzy guitar riffs, the devil is still singing the blues.