Beat the Devil’s Tattoo isn’t some heady exercise in rock transcendence or romanticism. Rather, it’s a greasy, dirty, stomping beast, bleeding mud and exhaling dust, wheezing on ashy cigarettes as the boys of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club seek to personify, celebrate, and finally eulogize the ravaged sound of bar-bred, blue-collar rock. At its finest, the album serves as the ideal soundtrack for a fleet of lonely, grizzled bikers lost on a desert highway: slow-rolling and hardened, simultaneously seething, brooding, and wistful, and armed with the pride of vagrancy.
Slow is the operative word here, as the L.A. trio often favors deliberation over pace. Purposeful guitars sluggishly awaken and then turn on “Aya,” grinding in agony like long-rusted gears. Tracks don’t progress so much as toil and slave, pushing their sweaty melodies uphill Sisyphus-like. The deliciously dark “River Styx” beckons listeners with succubus charm, matching its hip-bobbing beat with chaotic guitar slides that somehow manage to be both buttery and razor-edged. The epic “War Machine” stammers and bellows like a dying elephant, its gait so overladen with fuzz and distortion that angular, micro harmonies erupt alongside the furious march.
At its best, however, Devil’s Tattoo places its fate not on hellish momentum, but in the vocal prowess of guitarist Peter Hayes and bassist Robert Levon Been. The tired, hungry torture in their laborious voices—true, especially, to Hayes’s love of Johnny Cash—allows them to indulge in a writhing, seductive pain that hearkens back to the blues-stomp throttle of 2005’s Howl. The lounging, unadorned piano that leads “Long Way Down” drapes luxuriously across the vocal thunder, proving that, below the grimy artifice of Devil’s Tattoo‘s production, BRMC’s music is no mere skull-n’-bones gimmickry.