The first mental images to come to the brain of the average Joe or Jane when mentioning Omaha, Nebraska, would likely be cornfields as far as the eye can see, Johnny Carson, steaks, a world zoo, Mutual of Omaha Insurance or tortured songsmith Conor Oberst. Now, if you happen upon a fan of the whacked out sub-genre of rock that I like to call surf Billy garage rock, Omaha conjures one prominent spector: the band that is Brimstone Howl.
With one of the many severe thunderstorms to shit on Missouri in the last few weeks raging outside my office window, I felt it was the opportune time to stay up into the wee hours of the morning, risk electrocution at my computer and review Brimstone Howl’s latest We Came In Peace. Actually, the conditions are perfect for a critique of this record; the weather is violent and unrelenting, reminiscent of those old Hammer Studios horror flicks from the 1950s and 1960s, add to that the creepy Jim Diamond of Detroit garage gods The Dirt Bombs production (Peace sounds a bit like it was recorded at the bottom of a metal trash can in a well at the very back of an immense cavern) and Peace, though ironically named, could easily be its soundtrack.
There are many moments of eerie greatness to be found here. The songwriting, delivery, setup and all around raw slickness of the songs are not unlike the gems on the classic Nuggets compilation. Every track has flashes of this, all made nearly perfect by the manically fantastic lead guitar savagery of Nick Waggoner. His wicked slide and effects drenched flamethrower is especially prominent on the track “Child Of Perdition”, a roadhouse jam that bows to Chuck Berry as much as it does X’s Billy Zoom. In fact, it could quite possibly be some of the best playing in rock and “They Call Me Hopeless Destroyer” is open nerve blues like Jack White used to play before he spread himself thin jamming in 47 different bands. Complimenting the guitar chops is vocalist/ guitarist John Ziegler. What stands out most for me about Zeigler on this record is not his playing, though it is topnotch, is his vocals. He is a strange alien creature mix of the late Lux Interior, John Doe and the swagger of a juvenile delinquent from The Blackboard Jungle if said delinquent would have had access to LSD and William S. Burroughs novels.
Perhaps the best thing about Peace is that, with it, Brimstone Howl are at the very least attempting to bring rock back to its blues, rebellious and bare boots, raw roots. Just like The Ramones did in the 1970’s, Howl borrowing from 1960’s groups like The Shirelles, The Shangri-Las and The Ronettes to hone a sound that is as much a tribute as it is original. Goddamn, there’s even a song on the disc named “Shangri La”. If that isn’t a apparent case of fandom I don’t know what is.
The only crystal clear ape of any bands on this disc is the track “Easy to Dream”. If they could have gotten Sweet Lou Reed to do (I won’t say sing) the lines, it could have been sold as a companion piece to “Venus In Furs” and The Doors exorcism that is “The World Will Never Know.” But is that a crime? Borrowing from your heroes? Burying you enemies in flattery? Brimstone Howl are one of the best of the new crop of garage punks that loot and pillage music history like so many guitar wielding Vikings. It’s clear that they walk in the footsteps of their forefathers but luckily they don’t seem content to merely be a cover band like some others that shall remain nameless here.
The drumming of Calvin Retzlaff is pounding, stick splintering playing at it’s finest. He is Dick Dale with a drum set instead of a Strat. The first sound the listener hears on Peace is the steady, lightning fast, flaw free time and it only gets more aggressive with every progressive track thereafter. The bass of Chauncey Patton is as dense as a trucker’s midnight cup of coffee. In short, the band is in top form, showing an improved confidence since 2007 Guts of Steel. They mix the different elements within the band expertly. There’s slower tracks (“Easy To Dream”), speedy blues numbers (“Catamite Blues”, “They Call Me Hopeless Destroyer”) and the just plan weird random tune (“The World Will Never Know”).
Brimstone Howl are like the strange friend that lives in his mom’s basement and talks at length about UFOs, The Twilight Zone, going to Buenos Aires and government conspiracies. As you sit there listening you think to yourself, “this cat is totally fucked in the head. I should split.” But you don’t. You sit there, you listen, you get sucked in because, after awhile, it starts making sense. That’s what it’s like listening to We Came in Peace. This Omaha band is the crop circles, Bigfoot, ghosts and alien abductions of rock; a far out phenomenon that gathers steam and a flock of new believers the more their name is whispered. Brimstone Howl… Brimstone Howl…… Brimstone Howl……..