Devils Brigade - Devils Brigade (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Devils Brigade

Devils Brigade (2010)


I love Matt Freeman. He'll always be noteworthy in the punk community for Rancid and Operation Ivy. Anyone who knocks his abilities as a bassist can be shut down with a single play of "Maxwell Murder." Appreciating him as a vocalist, however, takes devotion. He's kind of like the punk rock Louis Armstrong--renowned for his instrumental work, but man could his singing curl your toes. That said, I have a fondness for Freeman's lead vocals on Rancid songs like "Black Derby Jacket" and "L.A. River," and I certainly love the belated self-titled debut from his psychobilly side project Devils Brigade.

I first learned about Devils Brigade through "Vampire Girl" on Give 'Em the Boot Volume 3, and it remains the best introduction to the band. Freeman sounds ridiculously gruff and gravelly as always as he sings about dodging a lady with a case of the vampirisms. A more intense re-recorded version appears here, and it's still one of Devils Brigade's best songs. Sadly, the other songs aren't as gleefully macabre, instead focusing on working-class problems and motorcycles, among other things. The music still serves up delicious slices of psychobilly, though.

I called Devils Brigade a side project earlier, but I'm not so sure that's appropriate. Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong plays guitar, and Lars Fredericksen even shows up for a song ("Bridge of Gold"). The only non-Rancidite is D.J. Bonebrake from X, and he previously played with Freeman in Auntie Christ (I'm just gonna float this out there: Auntie Christ is one of the most underrated '90s punk bands. Discuss.). The group certainly offers Freeman a chance to rock the mic, but lyrically it's pretty in keeping with the late-period Rancid of Let the Dominoes Fall, just with fewer references to being from the East Bay or whatever and more instances of roots rock.

Here's where I come into conflict with rating systems. The music critic in me can't give Devils Brigade a perfect score because, well, it's awfully niche. Some of the songs are pretty terrible--"Protest Song" is got-damn cheesy with its celebration of "the working man / the blue collar man / he's a fighting man"; the lyrics are wanting. But I appreciate Freeman's work past and present quite a bit, and I've been spinning his latest album even though I probably could have paid attention to other, better records. Rancid and their offshoots are worth hearing for their misses almost as much as their hits (well, unless Skinhead Rob is involved), and this record sounds like a group of friends having fun. Sure, I wish it was kitschier à la "Vampire Girl," but it's also been a while since the last Tiger Army album. I need this one as is.