Album Review: We’re the Bastards

Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons arose back in 2016 out of the ashes of Motörhead after the frontman, rock legend Lemmy Killmister, unfortunately passed away. The band features Phil and his three sons (hence the name) alongside former Attack! Attack! frontman Neil Starr. Their debut album, The Age of Absurdity, was a real sleeper hit in 2018 and, honestly was one of my favourite albums of this year. Having heard one or two of their latest singles and it developing on that sound and style well, I’m excited to check this out and see if it lives up to my hype!

The album We’re the Bastards opens on a pretty decent punk riff from Mr Campbell, slow but chunky and heavy. It carries on through the verse, accompanied by a steady drumbeat and a great driving bassline. Neil Starr’s powerful vocals accompany them, adding some proper rock’n’roll lyrics over the top, all drinking and touring. The chorus comes in soon and, unfortunately, it’s a little weak. The lyrics work perfectly, involving the fans by giving them a cool (if kind of mean) name and by making it gang vocals, something easy to sing along to live. However, something about this didn’t feel as big or epic as some of their previous work, or the other singles from this album. It never opened up, just stayed on the same level, although that is a symptom of punk. The song drops down into an AC/DC style riff coming out of the second chorus, squeezing some more call and response gang vocals in before Phil shreds through a short but feeling-fueled solo, plenty of bends and sustained notes over technicality. A double chorus finishes the opening track and, while it was good, it didn’t quite live up to my lofty expectations.

The lead single to the album, Son of a Gun, picks up the pace and the quality immediately. It opens on a fast, dirty bass riff, the kind that would make Lemmy very damn happy. The guitar soon kicks in after, following the same heavy riff. It continues through the verse too, the guitars a little muted at first but not for long. The vocals sound great, Starr has such a powerful low range that adds some great and much needed depth to the song. Unfortunately, the song stays at around the same level and tempo going into the chorus, making it feel a little underwhelming even though the vocal line is catchy as hell. It does feel like Motörhead, though, since it is a formula they are all so familiar with. Coming out of the second chorus the band drop back down into that awesome driving baseline that has been ever present and ever great throughout the song. They then explode into an amazing solo from Campbell, somehow managing to channel both Slash and Kirk Hammett energies in the same short solo. He really is so underappreciated in the guitar and rock world in general, mainly just because he wasn’t a Motörhead original. The last chorus manages to sound bigger with a much needed solo in the background, at least adding enough depth there to give it a grand, epic feel to close out. This is the sort of thing I was waiting for! I fucking love this band.

Promises are Poison opens up on another heavy, sludgy guitar riff from Mr Campbell. The verse kicks in and, if you couldn’t already tell by the song’s title, some angry, aggressive lyrics kick in. “Choke on your Words” is very much a theme of the song, and it works well. The chorus, while another simple one, seems to fit so much better here than it did during the opening song. While it doesn’t have the gang vocals I would argue it’s more catchy and does still have some subtle harmony work. The song slows down out of the second chorus, dropping into a kind of breakdown, but still having a fair amount of vocals in it. It soon descends into another awesome, Slash-esque solo. Phil is given plenty of time to really cut loose in this one and give it his all and it really shows, it’s awesome. We get another double chorus with a call and response melody between the guitar and vocals and it’s great. Another stellar song.

Born to Roam begins on a much needed change of pace, and one that the band does so well. It opens on an acoustic guitar before a slide comes in over the top, adding a real country/southern feel to it immediately. I already love this song. Even when the distorted guitars come in over the top, heavying it up, it is still a bouncy country riff. The verse riff is huge and heavy, keeping that same bounce but adding in some great vocals and melodies over the top. The awesome intro riff doubles up as the chorus, again having some great, catchy, fitting lyrics over the top, again about touring. Another slower bridge before the sludgy, grungy verse riff kicks back in, almost a Nü Metal feel to it, with another awesome guitar solo over the top of it. We get another chorus following the solo, following the pretty standard song structure that all have on this album so far. However, I don’t mind at all, this was awesome. I’ve heard few modern bands manage to blend different styles and genres together so seamlessly and it makes for an excellent listen. This song made the playlist as soon as the slide guitar came in.

Animals starts off fast and heavy, guitar playing some distorted chords before the drums and bass come in to match them soon after. It’s Motörhead (you can’t blame me for mentioning them so much in this one, ha!) through and through. The verse is a pretty standard affair at this point but the chorus sounds awesome, slowing down just enough to feel different, and having the ‘no’ between the lines feels like something easy to get on board with and chant along to live. It feels remiss to even mention that after the second chorus there is a fucking awesome solo by Phil at this point. However, this one was better and more epic than most. It went on for a while, always great, and then towards the end the guitars and crashes play a few huge, heavy, sludgy notes while the solo grinds away over the top, it sounds amazing. Plus, any song that can squeeze in an evil laugh in there gets a thumbs up from me. It speeds back up into a huge final chorus, complete with double bass, concluding another amazing song. This album is great so far.

Another single off the album, Bite my Tongue, is up next. More big chords and cymbal crashes before it opens out into a great groove orientated riff, the best riff on the album so far, in my opinion. It surprisingly continues through the verse but actually the higher notes contrast nicely with Neil’s lower range. It opens up again for the chorus, another catchy one with yet more aggressive lyrics. Definitely one to listen to if you’re angry. It definitely made it to be a single because of the riff and verse though, not the chorus, it’s weak compared to some of the others so far. A good bridge coming out of chorus #2 leads to, you guessed it, another awesome Campbell solo. This one felt a little more reserved than the last but did use plenty of wah, something I am of the unpopular opinion that it adds a lot to the solo and sounds great almost every time. Another double chorus, this time with the sweet intro verse running in tandem which adds quite a lot to the sound actually, I’d have preferred it all the way through I think. Then we’re done. Another great song, what can I say?

Desert Song slows things way back down again. It opens great with another fuzzy, slow, country style riff before adding one of my favourite instruments to ever grace the rock world, the harmonica. However, this intro feels like the best part of the song. The rest of it, while still good, feels slow and overly drawn out. I understand that not every song can be balls to the wall, and generally I do love slower songs. My issue is that it is all at the same level and tempo. At least the big slow rock ballads start low and slow but build up into a huge, open chorus. This just stays at that same low level throughout, undoing a lot of it’s style and swagger in my eyes (ears). Also, at pushing 6 minutes long, it feels bloated. Heck, three minutes in before the second chorus ends is a little much for me, given how short the song’s intro is. At least Phil’s solo is still pretty badass, and the chorus is catchy, if too long. The only blemish on a so far amazing album.

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KEEP YOUR JACKET ON definitely picks up the pace and (for me at least) the quality again. However, unfortunately, it doesn’t do a whole lot too different from most of the other songs on the album thus far. It is the same with the subsequent two songs, LIE TO ME and RIDING STRAIGHT TO HELL. All are good, solid rock songs in their own right, and both are songs that I would not at all object to if they snuck their way into a live set. However, given the sheer quality of the first half of this album, they just don’t stand out enough for me to have much to talk about. Sorry to anyone who loves these songs!

Hate machine, however, is Awesome!!!. Opening on a perfect little drum roll before exploding into life, going fast and hard straight into and out of the verse, not slowing down a single beat. The chorus doesn’t even come in until a minute in a half in, crazy given the pace of the song, and managed to have two short little guitar solos before it, too. The chorus itself is catchy as anything too while still somehow maintaining that same crazy fast beat. The bridge after the second chorus is the first time the song slows down at all and even then it is a heavy breakdown with some awesome chanting in it, perfect for a live show. The solo is suitably fast, technical and evil sounding, Phil really channelling his inner Randy Rhodes here. This one even manages to squeeze in another verse before the final double chorus before reprising the awesome breakdown riff from just before the solo. It made for one hell of an epic ending, all sludgy and heavy. The fact that this was also well over five minutes but didn’t feel a slog at all, unlike the other song, speaks volumes. Heck, these guys went from slow country to a thrash song all on the same record, it’s awesome! I think i’m finally done gushing all over this song, safe to say it’s by far my favourite song on the album and immediately made the playlist.

Destroyed is another full on Motörhead-esque punk song. Dripping with swagger and attitude it is balls to the wall speed and anger throughout. “We don’t need your authority” is a fantastic lyric on its own, but when it’s followed by chants of “No way” and “Fuck you”, something I imagine the crowd can easier get on board with, you have a great song to rile up anyone. It’s catchy both in the chorus and verse, something very few songs are able to do and is a true testament to these guys’ songwriting skills. Again, it feels remiss to mention Phil’s awesome soloing, a lot of wah present over technicality but it fits the song so well. At a little over two minutes this is a punk song done right and, in hindsight after the next paragraph, is a much better pick to close the album than the next song. Awesome stuff yet again.

The closing track, Waves, is the longest song on the album by a good 40 seconds or so. It also definitely feels that way, too. Damn is it slow. It starts with a beautiful low bassline and does build into a nice verse, simple high guitar work and some great vocals from Neil. It all builds amazingly into a huge, equally beautiful chorus, catchy but also damn emotional given the lyrical content. It deals a lot with depression, loneliness and even suicide, both very important subjects and fits in perfectly with the slower nature of the song. It’s great, but my only issue is that it such a slow and depressing song to end such an otherwise heavy, fast, attitude filled album. As I said before, it would have worked better with a faster song to close out the album. But then again, this does seem to be a trend for modern rock albums, for some reason. No more going out with a bang I guess. At least we get another slower, awesome, Slash inspired solo from Phil. With a track of this length, too, he’s really able to cut loose and go for it, giving each note plenty of time to breath. It almost reminded me a little of Myles Kennedy’s solo in Alter Bridge’s ‘Blackbird’, but unfortunately not quite as good (that solo is my favourite ever so it would have had a hard task!). The ending is suitably epic too, soloing sneaking into the background of the double chorus and the HUGE sounding outro. It does go into a massive, heavy riff to close out too, one of the highlights of the album actually alongside the solo, so I do kind of see why they put this last. It unfortunately just came a little too late for me. An awesome song, but maybe swap round this and the punk song before it for the order. Still made my playlist, too!

Overall, this album was amazing. There was barely a bad song on it, a great blend of genres and styles all packed into a 50 minute showcase of the bands talents. There were notable highlights and, of course, a couple of ‘slightly less good than others’ parts, but overall the good massively outweighed the bad. I would say it’s on a par with their debut album and I cannot wait to see which of these songs make it into their setlist next time I see them live, hopefully it’s a fair few of them. It’s definitely lived up to the hype!

The review by musician, blogger & author – Joe Griffiths

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