Brume - Rooster
I should say up front, I have a serious soft spot for heavy music with powerful female vocals. Bands like Holy Grove, Blues Pills, Disenchanter, Blood Ceremony, Windhand and a host of other killer bands I’ve discovered in the last couple of years in the now thriving underground heavy rock and metal scene. I think it’s a harkening back to my youth and the dynamic female artists that were so powerful in either raw vocal talent, range, songwriting ability, or a combination of all those factors, that they simply couldn’t be dismissed by the rock industry of the 70’s and 80’s (no matter how hard the industry tried) such as Ann Wilson from Heart, Pat Benatar, the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett, and Blondie’s Debbie Harry to name a few. There’s just something compelling about a female voice standing in front of the chainsaw snarl of electric guitars, thumping bass guitar and the machine gun attack of drums properly beaten into submission in the still mostly male-dominated world of heavy rock and metal. This has been done to devastating effect in the latter 2000’s beginning with the more symphonic metal stylings of bands like Within Temptation and Delain, but until recent years, very few of the new crop of more basic bluesy influenced rock and metal bands featured female lead vocals. The onset of the more riff-based styles of the “Doom Metal” subgenre especially, with its’ fuzz-drenched down-tuned tones, slow driving tempos, and ultra-heavy rhythm sections, has created a fascinating backdrop for the more melodic dulcet tones produced by the female vocal cords. This is not to say that they cannot be just as powerful and hard-edged as their male counterparts by any means, in fact, in many cases they are equally, if not more powerful.
Flash back to 2015, a random solo excursion to The Caravan Lounge, San Jose’s best (in my opinion) place to go for a cheap beer, and good old-fashioned ear pummeling barrage of riffology. Built like a cement bomb shelter with no windows, seemingly no air conditioning (even the ceiling fans are missing blades!), no stage riser or stage lights, and only the faintest semblance of a proper P.A., but brimming with vibe and sheer concrete volume, The Caravan plays host to all manner of heaviness several times a week, from punk to stoner and doom, and to even more extreme forms of metal. Anywhere between 20 and 70-odd people (not 70 “odd people” haha!...that actually might be debatable…) can be found gripping beers and bobbing or banging their heads in sweaty unison to the thundering of the kick drum. I chanced to go on a whim to a show I knew none of my compadres was going to, with a handful of bands I knew nothing about, just a desire to hear some riffs get dealt out and get my riff-fix on. A couple of bands had gone through their paces and put on entertaining sets when the next band, a trio, launched into their set and WHAM!!! I was hit between the ears with a wall of the thickest doomy sound heard in a long time. The guitarist was dealing out riffs on his Les Paul that would’ve made Iommi and Pike proud in equal measure, the bass player plucking a fuzzy haze of notes from the netherworld on her white Fender P-Bass, and the drummer pounding out the time like a sledgehammer alarm clock going off. Then something unexpected happened, the bassist opened her mouth and a haunting, almost angelic voice began weaving melodies around the slab of sound coming from the amplifiers in a combination of sonic dissonance that I recently described thusly;
”Brume's music evokes a clashing of two titans like Godzilla versus King Kong with Susie's (bass guitarist & vocalist Susie McMullan) vocals playing the part of Fay Wray pleading with the monsters to stop fighting. Stunning beauty and Earth shattering heaviness in one colossal sonic explosion.”
I was instantly captivated by the seamless marriage of two seemingly dissimilar sounds, a contrast of light and dark that resonated in my guts…literally, it was so loud in the Caravan that the bass and kick drum were rattling my insides, not at all an uncommon occurrence at that locale. Unfortunately, the ramshackle P.A. was struggling to keep up (also a common occurrence) and it was hard to hear the aforementioned angelic tones. (At a more recent gig in another San Jose venue with an even more ridiculous P.A. system I shouted at my friend Jeff, whose band was also on the bill that night, filling in for the non-existent sound guy at said club “crank Susie’s mic!!!”) Hard to hear or not, I was duly impressed and convinced “they’ve got something special here.” Shortly after that initial introduction to their music I purchased their debut EP “Donkey” and was blown away by the music, but much as I liked it, I found the vocals somewhat buried in the mix under all the awesome instrumentation. When I learned they were in the studio working on their first full-length I was excited but also keeping my fingers crossed that the vocals would be up front in the mix. After receiving the digital promo for “Rooster” two days ago, I’ve listened to it at least seven times and literally cannot stop listening to it.
First and foremost, Susie’s vocals are right up front in the mix and vary from soft and melodic, to desperate and pleading, to downright powerful and gripping. Box checked! Album starter “Grit and Pearls” begins with a fuzzed out slow bass line before Jamie McCathie’s snarling guitar doubles the bass along with Jordan Perkins-Lewis’ steady pounding rhythm, then unexpectedly, the song boils down to a quiet guitar strumming in double time, building back up with a fervent tempo as Perkins-Lewis displays his prowess with one fantastic drum fill after another behind McMullan’s nimbly walked bass lines as McCathie’s guitar growls out the power chords. (After hearing this breakdown the first time I stopped the music and sat for a moment in stunned amazement and I believe the word I uttered was “wow!”) “Harold” begins with an acoustic guitar intro that is folky yet also brooding, foreshadowing the doom to come before erupting into a slow electric dirge with McMullin’s warning vocals forlorn and desperately pleading as if from beyond the grave. “Reckon” begins with perhaps my favorite vocal performance of the album, a soulful sorrowful lament:
“He walks in slow
With his ox blood boots
He’s got a beard that’ll tell ya the truth
He rides real fast
On his busted up bike
He’s got hell burning in his eyes”
“Call the Serpent’s Bluff” is a mid-tempo (well, as close to mid-tempo as Doom gets) stomper that sees McMullin belt out her most powerful vocal performance yet in the verses, then melts into the ether with wispy wailing in the pre-chorus and choruses. “Welter” is a simply divine folky piece with acoustic guitar and the faint echo of piano with an altogether different vocal delivery, ethereal, soulful and hauntingly beautiful. “Trade Winds” closes the album in bombastic waves of slow doom as the maelstrom envelops everything in its’ mighty wake. Building and building between quieter breaks in the storm and sheets of “hail and rain” pounding down from the sky in an epic nearly twelve-minute conclusion.
“Rooster” is literally a giant leap forward from “Donkey” in composition, performance, and production, and that’s saying a lot in comparison to such a fantastic debut EP. The mix is well-balanced between the instruments and the production leaves room for the music to breathe, even in its’ heaviest moments.
“Rooster” has come pleading with the listener to pay heed. Those who fall under its’ shadow will be ensnared like the sailors of old following the siren’s call to their doom upon the rocks. Speaking from personal experience, these rocks are actually quite comfortable.