“Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest, this shall be the portion of their cup.”
— Psalm 11:6
There is a pungent smell of sulphur blasting out of Lincoln, Nebraska. Thankfully, it’s not the end for all us sinners as predicted in the King James version of the Bible, but a barely controlled unleashing of some of the finest reverb-drenched rock ‘n’ roll to be heard in quite a while. With We Came in Peace, their fourth album in three years, Brimstone Howl have surpassed all expectation by turning in a record that galvanizes their seat-of-the-pants garage-punk stomp with razor-sharp lyrics, while production by Detroit’s Jim Diamond (think the White Stripes’ first two albums and the Gore Gore Girls’ latest) keeps it crisp without the loss of the band’s cavernous, gritty sound. The four-piece outfit’s description of their most recent effort as “weird fictional adventure stories, and beginner blues guitar lessons for mongoloids” barely scratches the surface of the strangeness beneath.
Recorded in just four days at Diamond’s studio, Ghetto Recorders, the 15 tracks here keep up a relentless pace throughout. Spine-tingling lyrics rub shoulders with fuzzed-out rockabilly. Lead singer/guitarist John Ziegler howls, croons, and screams about being a mere “ass scratch away from the truth” on the country-swamp ‘n’ roll of “Obliterator”, recalling a vibrant Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. He tells the excellent spoken-word tale of a young sociopath’s love on the run (“The World Will Never Know”) and describes a boy’s delight at signing up for the US Marines (“USMC”) so he can trade “in the cunny for a little bit of physical pain”. All the while, the boys from the backbeat keep it tight with Calvin Retzlaff’s pile-driver drumming and latest bass player Matt Shaughnessy (the band haemorrhage bassists – – eight or possibly nine, but who’s counting) fuelling the frenzied delights offered up by numbers like opener “They Call Me Hopeless Destroyer” and the feral rampage that’s “Catamite Blues”, where “eunuchs weep” as Nick Waggoner’s phosphorescent guitar solos light up the “valley of pain”.
Although at times reminiscent of both the Cramps’ wigged-out wanderings and the Damned’s mid-’80s psychedelic side-show Naz Nomad and the Nightmares (a gracious bow to ’60s suburban punks) with a rocket attached to their butts, this never feels like the guys are aiming at recreating a sound or period, but simply finding their niche in a very crowded garage and letting in a little fresh air.
After six years of getting their name out there through constant touring and three increasingly good albums, the band formerly known as the Zyklon Bees (the Howl’s album debut in 2005 Seven Means Run was initially released under that name before controversy — it referred to the gas used in the Nazi extermination camps — forced them to change it) may very well get their wish of making a living solely by playing music, preferably in front of audiences exceeding 100 each time they get up on stage. Let’s hope so for all our sakes. “It’s kind of a weird record in parts,” claims lead guitarist Nick Waggoner. Indeed.