Dusty Shaky Shiver
Review & Interview by Zachary Painter
Music is a dynamic force and we, as the ultimate architects of musical expression, have very little control over how it affects us. The most fascinating phenomenon, then, is to witness the progressive evolution of a group of individuals contributing to the greater musical conversation of our time. Take BRUME, for instance, a Bay Area three-piece who just released their sophomore effort, ‘Rooster’ (2017). It’s an impressive slab of gritty, colorful doom, and it delivers on every paradigm of what we call doom metal.
Rooster’s primary achievement is that it sounds much bigger than anything the band has done before. It’s bold, heavy, and beautiful, and the songwriting is tighter and stronger than anything from their 2015 debut, Donkey. By focusing more on interesting guitar work and sounder song structures, the trio has avoided sounding like another Windhand doom-pop clone, which isn’t so easy to do if your band features a female vocalist. From their latest work, Brume draw comparisons to the likes of Messa or to some degree Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard.
Indeed, not experimenting enough was the major drawback of Donkey, which relied on singer and bassist Susie McMullen’s soaring falsetto to carry the band through five rather similar tracks. Rooster is superior in that it works more with the band’s collective talents to create staggering moments that incorporate dynamics and powerful guitar progressions. Songs like opener “Grit and Pearls,” for instance, progress by sculpting dynamics that carry the listener from stentorian peaks to quiet, calm depths. These transitions establish intimate moments with the listener, imparting Rooster with a richness that sustains the whole record.
Perhaps “Reckon” captures Rooster’s variety the best: Jamie McCathie’s guitar–clean and coated with some effects–sounds out a bluesy passage that supports McMullen’s swaggering vocal lead. It’s a calm introduction that proceeds to obliterate the listener as Jordan Perkins-Lewis joins McCathie with his drums to create a wall of sound. Towards the halfway point of the song, McMullen belts out a tribal-esque chant that soars majestically atop McCathie’s High on Fire-inspired riffing and Perkins-Lewis’ sustaining ride cymbal.
To bring some balance to Rooster, Brume included a softer song called “Welter,” an acoustic track that combines piano from Billy Anderson himself to accompany McMullen’s stunning vocals. “The villain plays the victim,” sings McMullen. “Do you use pity as your weapon?” The melody and lyrics come from a place of hurt; the pain and upheaval radiate from McMullen’s crooning voice as soft piano chords shimmer in the offing. It’s a moment of vulnerability and nakedness, but it cuts deep.
The album ends on “Tradewind,” a slow paced dirge that shifts from somber plodding to a cathartic release towards the final minutes of the song. “Open wounds, healing truth, healing you. Open wounds, open, open you, healing truth,” McMullen sings. The cleansing nature of the lyrics in conjunction with the guitar’s unbridled drone creates yet another moment of unashamed tenderness that shows us a side of doom metal we’re only accustomed to getting in small doses from bands like Pallbearer, Warning, or even Type O Negative (“Love You to Death” is one of the sappiest songs in metal, but we love it all the same). More of this, please.
The daringness to pioneer new sonic territory is what makes Rooster such a success. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s not terribly derivative, either. For their second LP, the future is looking bright for Brume.
A Lively Conversation With Brume
By Zachary Painter
Photos by Kristen Wrzesniewski
Brume recently finished up a few UK tour dates with Gurt. You also got to play Desertfest at The Underworld alongside Bongzilla and Inter Arma, among others. How was that whole experience? I read that Body Count was forever “your” band.
Susie McMullan (vocals, bass): Ugh, that was so incredibly fun. Travelling with rad dudes who have fantastic music you get to hear every night will elevate you and make you want to do better. Gurt is a killer band and a fun bunch of dudes to party with every night. I have been singing “Salt In My Vagina/Jon GarSeeYa Later" and “Battlepants” walking around in the city with a huge smile on my face since I’ve gotten back. Desertfest London was a treat, as well. We were well taken care of, packed the venue, and pretty much had the best show to date. The sound was epic and the event was really well run. I was meaning to reach out to the sound folks at the Underworld to let them know how excellent it was. Can’t ask for anything better than that?
Most people don’t remember their dreams.
Mine are clear, awful, and haunting…
Jordan Perkins-Lewis (drums): Desertfest was incredible. Easily one of my favorite festivals in the world. Gurt warms the cockles of my heart. We stayed with a lot of mums on this trip. Mums go hard on tour.
Jamie McCathie (guitar): The tour was epic. For me, I got to hang with my Gurt family and introduce Brume to not only some of the best peeps on the planet, but a seriously incredible band. Gurt slayed every night. And to end the tour at Desertfest was an amazing experience. The Underworld was rammed. It’s my favorite venue in London and I never got to play there in the 7 ½ years I lived in London. It was an experience. Body Count “Get Shot” turned 'to the tour anthem after Bill and Spice banged on about how amazing the new album was – it’s epic. It was our stage entrance tune at Desertfest. It made us feel pumped.
Which bands were you looking forward to seeing most?
Jamie: I was so excited to see Inter Arma, and they blew my ass off. I was also excited to see bands I hadn’t from the U.K. like Elephant tree, Vodun, Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters and Mammoth Weed wizard Bastard. Elephant tree were one of the bands Susie and I religiously listened to when we were starting Brume. They are a huge influence on us and to do something in the future with those guys would be rad. Pete and I go a lil’ way back from my Gurt days.
We spend most of our time hiding in a cave making music.
You guys worked with Gareth Kelly and his record label and PR entity When Planets Collide to set up this tour. Seeing that Brume has close ties with Gurt and the UK scene, do you have future plans to collaborate with Gurt or other bands overseas?
Jordan: We’re bringing Gurt over next year. That’s all I’ll say for now.
Jamie: The tour was special for me because I played a set with Gurt every night, the songs I could still remember. They came on stage and played “Tradewind” with us a few nights. Doing more with Gurt would be amazing. There was a lot of talk about getting Gurt over to the West Coast. We’ll see.
Any upcoming tours for Brume stateside?
Jordan: We’ll get down to Los Angeles at some point this year and hopefully back up to the Pacific Northwest. There are also rumors of the East Coast and Deep South.
Since Donkey came out, it seems a lot has happened logistically for the band. I remember discovering Donkey on Transylvanian Tapes out of Oakland. Do you still work with them? How did you transition to DHU Records?
Susie: Yeah, Transylvanian Tapes is led by this wonderful man that helps small bands like us out, but he only does tapes. DHU only does vinyl. He is also a lovely man who does a lot for us. We are grateful for Transylvanian Tapes and DHU because they not only propped us up when we were invisible to most people, they introduced us to a lot of other underground bands that now inspire us and help us progress. Very similar to you guys. If it wasn’t for Doomed & Stoned, Planets Collide, Ripple Music, Transylvanian Tapes, DHU, and these wonderful blog posts and reviews, we’d not be given the chances that we have had so far. We are incredibly grateful for it. We spend most of our time hiding in a cave making music. Y'all make us relevant and visible.
Jordan: The community surrounding bands like us, and music like ours, is absolutely the best part of doing all this. We’ve met some wonderful people who have really gone out their way to push us and encourage us to keep going. Transylvanian Tapes and DHU are a huge part of that. The support we’ve been fortunate enough to receive has been overwhelming.
Jamie: James Rauh from Transylvanian Tapes is a legend. He totally hooked us up and continues to do so much to promote Brume and a ton of the other amazing underground Bay Area bands. DHU reached out to us after Donkeycame out and has been a huge partner in getting our music to wax. He puts out incredible bands and tirelessly connects with people to spread the word. When Jordan said he wanted to make a label to put out Rooster we were so pumped for him, but decided to have DHU still help with vinyl. I’m glad we did, the color looks way killer and I know people are gonna lose their shit.
Jamie: Body Void is fucking incredible. Wilt’s voice is something else, and they keep getting better with every release. KOOK from San Jose are killer, too; not only sweet guys, but man they slay live. Serpents of Dawn, Tvsk, Lowcaster, War Cloud – it’s pretty vibrant around here and getting better.
So this new album, for me, has three focal points I want to talk about: the album art, the lyrics, and, of course, the music. For the album art, you guys chose Sean Beaundry to draw up this fantastic album art. How did you find Beaundry and what made you choose him?
Susie: Jamie found him. I was slow to the party, but fell just as hard in love.
Jordan: We knew what we wanted art-wise. We didn’t know Sean would take it leaps and bounds beyond what we had imagined.
Jamie: The album name was already decided, and Shaun’s birds and crows I’d seen were amazing – plus everything he’d done for Kylesa has this modern quality that I really wanted for our artwork. I reached out to him and was lucky enough that he was pumped about the project and creating a cockatrice. He was a dream to work with and has provided us such a killer album cover. We love it.
I really like Brume’s approach with album artwork and album names. 2015 released Donkey and it aptly featured a humanoid creature with a donkey’s head on the cover. Rooster features a wrathful rooster-snake throttling a sparrow. So what’s the link between your album art and names?
Jordan: Donkey was a temporary band name when we first got started. It eventually became the name of our first EP and Jamie discovered the artwork. I think we all fell in love with the chimera idea, so once we settled on Rooster we already knew it had to be some sort of animal hybrid.
Jamie: Animal hybrids may be a theme. Or farmyard animals? Who knows.
Some of the lyrics on this album were extractions from Victoria June Baigrie. I’ve looked her up and she’s an obscure poet. Tell us more about her work, why you chose to use her poetry, and in what ways it influenced the songwriting for the record.
Jamie: Vicci is my talented wife. The whole album was written by Susie, except “Harold” which is an extraction from a poem that she had created about an injured goldfinch she found and fostered when we lived in London. She found it lying in the street on a bustling Portobello road and swept it up, nurtured it back to health, and then took it to a wildlife reserve a week or so later. The whole experience was both rewarding and traumatic for her, so when Susie asked her to write a poem about it, she jumped at the opportunity. She’s keen to write more, maybe even some short stories for books are in the future. The acoustic intro I came up with at the same time this all happened, probably six years ago, so I’m glad I could make this song come to life. Harold is the bird you see on the cover, he looks in trouble but when you see the center gatefold on the vinyl artwork you’ll notice he’s just fine.
“Call the Serpent’s Bluff” is one of the more interesting songs for me lyrically, specifically the first two stanzas.
The other night I dreamt of the devil
In a painting white teal and purple
His glowing head and arms were a’ flailing
But the frame was somehow firmly planted
He didn’t talk but yeah he scared me
I left the room but he still got to me
He’s in my head
What went into selecting these lyrics?
Susie: That was a poem I wrote one morning after a pretty bad dream. Most people don’t remember their dreams. Mine are clear, awful, and haunting most of the time. I find that writing them down helps me deal with it and try to get it out of my head. Demons and Devils pop up in my dreams a lot and not in a funny, cool, metal way. I think it was a manifestation of me fighting some bad decisions I was tempted to make and ones I have already made, except for the end of the song. The end came a year later as an epiphany when I adapted the poem to music. I remember jogging to it making up a melody to the last riff and thinking, “Oh shit, fuck that. I’m calling his bluff.” The ending was emotionally triumphant. My dreams are like I constantly have these demons fucking fight over my soul. But I won that one a year later. Weird that I’m explaining this to a stranger. Maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe you should buy me a whiskey first, and I’ll tell you the rest. I like Bulleit.
Jordan: Make mine a double.
Jamie: Three, please!
Ok, so musically this album sees Brume really hitting their stride. How did the writing process change for this record?
Susie: In 2014, we just met and started playing music together. I’m not sure much has changed in our process, except for more time spent together probably helps you build trust and learn how to collaborate easier together. I know I feel more comfortable to make armpit farts as an intro and chirp bird noises mid-song!
Jordan: The first EP was more of a rush job, since Susie was expecting and the fate of the band was unknown. We really wanted to get something out quickly. With Rooster we booked the studio time well in advance and got Billy Anderson to sign on fairy early. There was a good six months where we didn’t do anything but write and rehearse. We’ve also become quite close as a band, so we were more willing to take risks that maybe we wouldn’t have attempted on the first record.
Jamie: Process-wise, the only thing that had changed was a lot more focus on lyrics and vocals. Susie and I spent a lot of time at each other’s apartments between band rehearsals focusing in on melodies, intonations, and harmonies. Thanks to all husband and wives in Brume for putting up with us!
What did you want to avoid on this record? In other words, what did you notwant this record to sound like, be perceived as, and so on?
Susie: Nothing, I don’t really think that way. I just do what I want to and try not to hold back. It isn’t great life advice but for music it works well for me. Plus, if Jamie or Jordan thinks my idea sucks, they have no problem telling me. That makes it easier to go for it, as far as I’m concerned.
Jordan: We never limit what we want to do. If we like it, we do it. We don’t try to avoid sounding like anything. We sound like who we are.
While the goal should never be “longer is better” for doom, necessarily, the songs on this record are noticeably longer and more fleshed out than those on Donkey. Did this come naturally as you wrote the compositions or were you trying to write a fuller, more complete opus?
Jordan: We joke that our songs aren’t finished until they’re over the six-minute mark, but we do like to stretch things out and slow things down. We’re not in a rush to get to the next song.
Jamie: I’m a big fan of Junior Kimborough, old Bob Dylan, and Yob. Monotony is kind of my jam. Some people find that boring, I find it hypnotic and calming. There is a balancing act to keeping people engaged, so to add more flavor to a song meant making them a lil’ longer than we did on Donkey. We wanted these songs to feel more epic and have more dynamics and take people on a journey, so twelve-minute songs just kind of happened.
In “Reckon,” McMullen’s vocals deliver this tribal chant in the middle of the song, followed by a fucking heavy riff. It’s a big moment and it’s segments like this that make Rooster stand out. What influences would you say pushed you guys to write songs like “Reckon”?
Susie: Jamie wrote that riff – it’s so good, right?! Love that shit. Lyrically, that song is about a big, ugly dude that works at NASA who looks like he should play in Crowbar that I crushed on for some time. It seemed natural to make this song a story about a badass who could match up to that riff. Tribal chants, animal sounds, three-to-four schizoid-personalities in one song, that is what speaks to me vocally and makes me feel wild and alive.
Jamie: The structure in that song came from my fear of it sounding too much like a blues thing. I think that’s where the schizoid personality comes in. There’s a lil’ bit of All Them Witches, Pallbearer, and a total High on Fire “10,000 Years” riff at the end that pretty much sums up what I would have been listening to that month.
This album experimented a lot more with dynamics than Donkey. “Tradewind,” which starts off with soft, somber guitar work, swells and fades throughout the song, ending on a strong crescendo. This really heightens the cathartic nature of the music. It’s purging, painful, and beautiful. Tell us more about how you guys “discovered” this element of your songwriting.
Susie: For the bass, I just try to beef up the guitars unless I can add something fun and dynamic or bring another riff that compliments Jordan or Jamie. Vocally, I like to show all sides of me. I am not strong and tough 24/7. Sometimes I’m fragile or scared or weak. Sometimes I’m pissed at the whole world and other times I want to lift the world up. I try to give all of those sides of me even if it isn’t that cool to show it. I notice when I do so then singing and playing music is therapeutic and self-nourishing. I don’t have to pretend to be something stronger than I am. It is a sustainable lifestyle being yourself. I highly recommend it.
Jordan: Metal bands have feelings, too.
Jamie: Last year’s Radiohead album, A Moon Shaped Pool, was something I obsessed over. That and All Them Witches (ever since I saw them at Day of the Shred in 2014). Whilst very different artists, both bands craft albums that are rich and dynamic. They create such contrast in style and mood. I love this juxtaposition. I respect that I never know what I’m going to get with both of these artists and I was so heavily inspired by that idea, I worked hard to incorporate it into Rooster. I’m excited to see how much more contrast we can create in the future.
I really enjoyed this record, still spinning it now. Thanks so much for visiting with the readers of Doomed & Stoned!