We Came in Peace
Lincoln, Nebraska four-piece, Brimstone Howl might just be "an ass scratch away from the truth." Their fuzz/reverb laden goulash of punk, garage rock, and blues just might be part of the answer to the lame state of affairs in the mainstream of American rock and roll today. Produced by Detroit's Jim Diamond and released on Alive Records, who seem to have the golden touch in my book, We Came in Peace is a Frankenstein album if you will, a mixture of several different and eclectic musical influences from the days when rock and roll still meant something and had a larger place in society. We could just have easily seen the Brimstone boys sharing the stage in the CBGB heyday with the Voidoids and Television, but no one is criticizing or complaining. Hell, better late than never.
With this high energy record, Brimstone Howl seems to be living by the Viv Savage mantra: "Have a good time, all the time." This album starts things out with a full throttle, keeping it wide open for the majority with up-tempo, out of control songs that flow together like a Ramones concert using quick transitions and similar chord progressions. You hardly get a chance to catch your breath as one track ends, when the next one comes barreling out of the gate, kicking you while you are down. Make no mistake however, this is not strictly a punk rock band or album. The sound is more of an amped up Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins on speed, with a hint of garage psychedelia and dirty blues. Vocalist John Ziegler reminds me of a mixture between Richard Hell, Tom Verlaine, and Lux Interior (R.I.P.) of the Cramps, with a bit more of a blues swagger at times. The guitars, along with vocals and everything else at one time or another, is drenched in reverb, keeping things echoing at every moment on the album and adding to overall vintage feel. The tones are fuzzy and dirty, with thick rhythms and soaring lead lines that whine and snake in and out of each verse and chorus. Rhythmically, drummer Calvin Retzlaff is the driving force throughout the entire album, with his four on the floor and fast eighth-note snare and floor-tom grooves. Apart from the music itself, the lyrics really caught my attention and are indeed in the spirit of great rock and roll. I mean, how can you go wrong with lines like, "Said the big red rooster to the mother hen- I'm back the shit again." Probably my favorite passage comes in "The World Will Never Know", a psychedelic narrative that sounds similar to the early work of the Electric Prunes, and states, "Her mother gave me a red glare of millennial loathing, so I gave her one arrogant finger. And I covered her porch in gravel. That made the correct impression." Come on now, how much more rock and roll can we get? For me, it is not the fast paced, make-you-sweat songs that stick out, though they are mighty fine indeed. Personally, I feel that the songs that stretch the influential boundaries take the cake and make the record much stronger indeed. These include the aforementioned "The World Will Never Know" and the psychedelic blues in "Easy to Dream" and "Obliterator." What comes to mind first with "Easy to Dream" is the Velvet Underground in the heroin years, complete with a hypnotic eighth-note feel among the sleigh bells, piano, and tom-toms and guitar lines that fall in and out of tune and tempo. "Obliterator" seems to channel a big Canned Heat influence with mainly spoken, sometimes howled lyrics that could easily be a personal take on Conrad's Heart of Darkness. No shit, this track is like John Lee Hooker speaking of his own "blood rituals of the Congo land" and is just the kind of color and spice that gives this album its cherry on top.
Bravo to Brimstone Howl for doing something different and giving us more of the rock that we all once loved. Do yourself a favor, if you love old rock and roll, garage, punk, and the blues, lend this band your ear and definitely check out anything that Alive Records has to offer. They do things right in the way it used to sound back when rock and roll was much stronger. One can only hope that bands like Brimstone Howl and entities like the good folks at Alive will keep it going to hopefully see things come full circle. It is about damned time. -AB