Reviewed: March 2021
Released: 2020, Nuclear Blast
Reviewer: Shäman Cröwe
As a lifelong Motörhead fan, Phil Campbell has been a force majeure throughout most of it. Although familiar with the band in previous incarnations, Campbell proved to be the longest running guitarist in Motörhead, and came to be the face that many would recognize as synergistic with the band’s ongoing classic identity.
Which is why, when the Welsh guitarist announced the release of a self-produced and recorded project involving his own sons, the excitement was paramount. I purchased the first Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons album from the band’s website in 2016, along with the middle finger pin that has long since sold out, and never looked back.
It isn’t that I’ve followed Phil in an unwavering fashion simply due to his tenure in Motörhead. Phil is an accomplished and adept guitarist in his own right, or he wouldn’t have been in Motörhead for as long as he was, nor would he have made the cut to begin with. Although to be fair, it was a bit of a strange admission to the Motörhead fold.
When Lemmy was looking to replace then guitarist Brian Robertson, he faced an odd situation. He couldn’t decide who was a better fit for the Motörhead lineup, Campbell or Würzel. Given that Motörhead had traditionally been a trio, Lemmy needed to pick one, but upon hearing them play together, he made the decision to hire them both, in what would be the only incarnation of Motörhead to feature a dual axe attack. In time, Motörhead would return to their power trio origins and Phil would carry on as the single guitarist. I digress…
Are there elements of Motörhead in Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons’ music? Of course, there is. You don’t spend over twenty years in Motörhead and not take on some of that lingering essence. Which is fine, after all we aren’t getting any new Motörhead in the near future anyway.
That’s not to say that Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons sound like Motörhead. Far from it. In fact, it actually showcases what an incredible depth Campbell offers as a guitarist. Free from the encumbrances of Motörhead, he is able to express his ideas outside of that context in a seemingly freer manner. For those that may never have listened to Motörhead previously, or perhaps didn’t like them for whatever reason, Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons is sure to check plenty of boxes.
Comprised of Campbell (guitar) alongside his sons, Todd (guitar/harmonica), Tyla (bass) and Dane (drums), and joined by Neil Starr (vocals), Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons are a dynamic band that easily glides through a plethora of styles and even genres, while honing a distinctive sound of their own.
After releasing their first record, it wasn’t long before the group signed with label giants Nuclear Blast and started work on their second offering, and debut major label release, 2018’s “The Age Of Absurdity”. A stalwart effort that would prove to be the foundation for their latest offering, “We’re The Bastards”.
It isn’t lost on most Motörhead fans that the name itself is a nod to the past. Originally Lemmy wanted to call Motörhead by the name Bastard, but thinking that they wouldn’t play Bastard on the radio, opted for the name we have since come to know. The story is that Campbell’s sons came up with the idea, although certain people in the organization are still said to agree with Lemmy’s original sentiments.
“We’re The Bastards” is a response to this. After the chagrin over the band’s name, Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons are literally announcing that they are indeed, THE BASTARDS, and make no bones about it. Funny enough, Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons are writing music that could very well get played on the radio, regardless of name.
Now that we’ve gotten some of the backstory out of the way, let’s dig into the album itself.
The album starts off with the title track “We’re The Bastards”, a straight up hard rocking, sing-along anthem that adequately sets the stage for the songs that follow, in as much as taking up seemingly seamlessly where the previous “The Age Of Absurdity” album left off. Not an easy feat for a follow-up album in many instances for other bands.
More importantly though, it serves to further bridge any remaining gap by explaining the band, no less their growing fanbase. From rock and roll blood and the loud explosive energy of live performances, to the endless highways between gigs and airlines between. By the time the second guitar drops out before the solo and Starr says “let’s fuck this up”, you’re as invested as they are. It’s easy to like and admittedly fun to sing; “we’re the bastards and we’re coming for you!”
Next up is “Son Of A Gun”, this is the first time that the ghost of Motörhead really surfaces. I am certain Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons are tired of the comparisons being made to the classic heavy metal group, but it certainly won’t change given their propensity to write songs that emulate the spirit of Motörhead. There is a lot that reminds one of the similarities in songs such as “Son Of A Gun”. The outright ones being the bass intro of this particular track and the overall pace, to begin with, but the lyrical content is not dissimilar either.
It should be pointed out that any resemblance this band might ever have to Motörhead is in music alone. Neil Starr’s vocals are night and day different to those of the gravel voiced Kilmister. Starr’s range works equally well to help broaden the abilities of the band to explore new territory and expand their musical horizons. In the case of “Son Of A Gun”, this allows for the vocal melody line to work, not unlike an additional instrument, in creating texture within the song itself, and lending a more commercial feel to the songs overall.
“Promises Are Poison” jumps right in, albeit at lessened speed than the preceding track, with a heavy, blues ridden riff not unlike Corrosion Of Conformity or even Black Label Society. In fact, chances are if you are a fan of either of them, you are going to find lots to enjoy about Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons. It’s a hard driving song that has a decent refrain. It’s not necessarily groundbreaking, but it doesn’t have to be. That seems to kind of be the point. More about making good, rock and roll songs. Easy to relate to and easier to sing along to, while still being “’eavy”. Loud and brash enough that anyone that enjoys that type of music can enjoy, but still easily accessible enough to suit a lighter pallet. So far, it works.
I have to admit, when “Born To Roam” starts to pump through the speakers it is so incredibly Guns N’ Roses like that it’s almost uncanny. Maybe not everyone will agree with this but bear with me. Between the acoustic intro to the razor thin blues lead over the near-shuffle rhythm guitar part that results. It sounds like, with a slightly different production, it could sit quite comfortably among the songs on either Use Your Illusions I or II. Until Starr starts singing, of course. Even the solo breakdown reminds me of GNR taken on its own, so Starr is actually the stamp that sends this letter to a different address. Which is great, because it’s a fantastic song. It has the workings of any classic track and will no doubt become a standard in Phil Campbell And The Bastards Sons’ repertoire. I apologize now though that I can still hear Axl doing his signature police car siren scream at various points in the background throughout…
“I’m not an animal, but I sure love the taste.” Okay, stop right there. That is a great lyric, I don’t care who you are. “Animals” is another freight train rolling. A rough, fast paced song with a double bass backbeat that drives it to the station. Lyrically the song aims to take on the adherent issues with an addictive ideology. Likening it to being unable to walk away, without giving credence to the thought of possible addiction. Unfortunately, we all know how that typically works out for most. “You get nothing for nothing, staring right down at your face in the coffin.”
“Animals” is followed by the bustling “Bite My Tongue”. The languid style of the song combined with a driving beat and the often tongue in cheek lyrical content makes this a fun song for the listener, in as much as it must be fun for Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons to play. It’s another straight-ahead rocker with a chorus that is almost impossible to forget once committed to memory. Although equipped with a few choice profanities, the overall commercial appeal cannot be overlooked. “Bite My Tongue” has more in common with a Three Days Grace song than it does some of the aforementioned comparisons. It’s of a beneficial nature however, and only further proves the ease with which the band is capable of embracing a variety of styles in defining their sound in general.
Next up is “Desert Song”. The second longest track on the album marks the midway point with a haunting and meandering song that deviates from the typical song structure found so far. Opting for a refrain rather than a traditional chorus and weaving a tapestry upon which Starr is able to tell a tale of desperation and apparent self-loathing, compounded by the acceptance of the negative opinions of another. “You don’t have to hate me,” Starr sings, “I already hate myself. Don’t you know shit sticks when you throw enough?”
It’s an aptly named song, from the bluesy acoustic and harmonica that starts and ends the song, to the ethereal effects on the vocals, one can easily imagine a desert scene complete with tumbling tumbleweeds. It lends the listener to wonder… what is he doing in the desert? Did he go there to prove someone correct, or to erase a mistake? Will he ever return? This unsettled disposition seems to permeate the scene as the band guides the listener into the desolate terrain. In the end, it seems to be that the quest for salvation is tantamount to the desperation of loss or failure. This is a strong song that sees the band at their most laid back in comparison to the rest of the record thus far.
Things gear back up with “Keep Your Jacket On” as Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons return to the rock action. Another driving number that sees the band resume their usual form. This is the sound that is emerging as familiar throughout their releases. Equally combining elements of Campbell’s previous resume with the fresh new era sound of The Bastard Sons. It’s a boisterous and rowdy celebration of raunch and roll, and it does it well.
“Lie To Me” fades in to reveal a grueling, pounding and grinding song that sees Starr asking for deception in preference over the reality of the situation. As the song bludgeons on it tells of an erstwhile existence made much easier to tolerate by avoiding the truth. The most interesting part of the song comes during the pre-chorus when Starr sings “Mirror, mirror, tell me who’s the winner…”. It’s a bit unusual but it adds to the song dynamically, offering a bit of a change up to the straight forward thickness of the song.
Stomping in next is “Riding Straight To Hell” as Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons pull on their riding boots and strap their saddlebags on the back fender in a blues fueled ode to two wheels. The song itself pounds out a cadence throughout and would no doubt sound great with your hair… or beard, flowing in the wind while aboard a rumbling Harley Davidson and cruising the open road.
Things quickly pick up as the band kicks into “Hate Machine”. This up-tempo track rips through the speakers and forcibly enters the room bound straight for the listener. Showcasing multiple guitar solos and a rousing energy, it is sure to get the pit moving during the band’s live shows – complete with elements of crowd participation. The sheer unrelenting power the band is capable of harnessing is well represented here.
The band keeps up the pace and then some with “Destroyed”. A deliciously punk rock song with lots of expletives and gang vocals that smashes and crashes like an intoxicated Ramone in a glassware factory. The roughly two-minute song is decadently juvenile, as any good punk anthem should be.
The album comes to a close with “Waves”. By far the song with the most finesse of those contained herein. It’s a sweeping and grandiose piece that finds the band shifting in favour of a slower gear. It’s yet another nod to the versatility of the group. Although considerably different than the other songs on “We’re The Bastards”, it doesn’t feel out of place or contrived. It isn’t different for the sake of being different, it’s simply comprised of yet another texture the band has at their disposal in honing their craft. The longest song on the record by far, “Waves” wraps up the proceedings nicely as it kicks up a notch at the end and plays out.
Overall “We’re The Bastards” is a solid offering. Despite the obvious comparisons to Motörhead, given Campbell’s previous tenure in the band, being unavoidable, Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons is a far cry from a carbon copy. Although they aren’t breaking ground or exploring uncharted territory, it isn’t really necessary. They have developed their own sound and style and in doing so have been able to incorporate a variety of influences in the process. The results tend to speak for themselves.
All in all, Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons will appeal to those who like heavier music, but there is plenty there for others to enjoy, and the commercial feel overall will open the band to listeners that might not enjoy Campbell’s previous musical direction.
Phil Campbell – guitar
Todd Campbell – guitar/harmonica
Dane Campbell – drums
Tyla Campbell – bass
Neil Starr – vocals
1) “We’re The Bastards”
2) Son Of A Gun
3) Promises Are Poison
4) Born To Roam
6) Bite My Tongue
7) Desert Song
8) Keep Your Jacket On
9) Lie To Me
10) Riding Straight To Hell
11) Hate Machine