Reviews

Rebelmatic, Ghost in the Shadows (Red Right Recordings, 2020)

A couple months back, I was hipped to the untamable NYC quartet that is Rebelmatic.

After having had the pleasure of chatting with frontman Creature, I promptly began the anticipatory frothing at the mouth in the run up to their full-length.

At long last, Ghost in the Shadows has dropped courtesy of Red Right Recordings. As it’s the label’s celebrated and initial release, it’s been imbued with an inaugural sensibility. 

As is the mark of a good band, the lead single and accompanying video for “Insult to Injury” showed but a sliver of the Venn diagram informing their multi-layered sound. Seamlessly stitching together their disparate resumes, Rebelmatic brings it.

Opener “Fire This Time” is a sneaky one, as they ultimately bring the fire every time. Riding in on a straight ahead, ripping punk riff, it doesn’t take long before they steamroll you. Acting as a sonic boot kicking in your door, all you heard was Rebel “don’t hit me no more.”

Their use of simple and clipped choruses that, while they don’t skimp on power, eschews the overly verbose for the assault of brevity.

Photo: Jihad AbdulSabur

There’s a poetry in the economy here, tacking it to a squealing solo that inverts decades of guitar music. Packed, as expected, with the cannon thud of fiery drumming, it’s felt in the chest. 

“Born to Win” has me thinking...how many punk bands have sung about being “born to lose.?” Flipping that common trope on its ass, you can hear an apropos confidence in the playing. Fittingly, it’s matched with wildly fluctuating vocals, echoey, growly, the sneering spoken word of Creature’s legacy as an MC.

An early high water mark is when he vacillates from a wailing banshee to the extended throat shredding of an early Damian Abraham.  

“Blood and Gold” is built around a Nervous Breakdown-era Black Flag riff. Led by an inventive snare run, it blends the mania of early USHC with the pugilistic pub vibes of street punk.

Per usual, their are keeper couplets like “Can’t pray for rain and hate the mud…” all over this thing. Nearly each line is  punctuated with “don’t stop, get up” and you feel every one with an increased and urgent call to action. They switch deftly from fast to blast and there’s an absolutely incredible guitar fretboard workout in the back half. The histrionics feel like like an improv moment, more a runaway train than a calculated shred. 

The progressive thrash that opens “Pony” points to top tier playing by band seemingly capable of whatever they want. Cleverly, the chorus high point is “P-O-N-Y” spelled out deliberately. After it’s tacked onto a gang vocal, Creature again embraces hip-hop, matching perfectly with their heavy, staccato groove.

The mixing shines here, as the buried and desperate vocals sound as if they’re crawling out of a landslide. Peep the solo at the end of this song and tell me your blood isn’t pumping triple time. Damn! 

Photo: Lori Weinstein 

“Get It Off” flirts with a '77 style punk/post-punk riff that gives it an off-kilter vibe. The beginning feels a bit restrained, but it’s clearly in service to the payoff, because when “all I wanna do is get it off” comes in, it’s with a chaotic and forceful energy. The 1:30 mark, there’s a vicious vocal passage woven between some top shelf riffs. Their arsenal is robust and there’s certainly no dearth of ideas.

Peep our June feature to read my thoughts on “Insult to Injury.” It’s certainly no spoiler to say it still rules. 

The album’s “B-Side," as it were, features their most varied and far-reaching influences. Yet, “Pinky Promise” offers a hard rockin’, party vibe after waves of feedback usher it in. The band has an alchemical ability to make even the most unexpected moments fluid, the vocals on this one add their own percussive dimension, dropping nonverbal utterances all over the rhythm. Even at their most straightforward, they can’t help but innovate.

“Show and Prove” rides in on a razor sharp thrash riff that pays tribute to the crossover bounce and groove of classic NYHC. Teetering between the street crush of Madball and the virtuosity of Leeway or Mindforce, it also feels like it’d have been at home on Roadrunner in the '90s.

Rebelmatic made y’all wait for it, but the breakdown at 1:30 is devastating, a bruiser that even adds an extra flourish to the riff. 

“Avenger” is late album moodpiece finds Creature at his most melodic vocally, courting post-hardcore as much as it does well-worn rock and roll. As it does all over this monster, the drumming is note perfect, cramming killer tom fills in the tightest of spots. The backing vocals are fantastic on this one, and, as it slows in the final minute, you realize this could be on the radio in a just universe. 

Photo: Derek Soto

Rebelmatic features players that have that essentially done it all and “Emergency Brake” is their showcase. Starting with a wah wah-laden funk intro, there’s a walkabout bass line doing its best Larry Graham impression. Lest you get complacent, it quickly turns tail into something far more akin to Craig Setari.

This NYHC banger lyrically works on multiple levels, emergency brake be damned. We’ve been going far too fast in these last 24 odd minutes, stopping is no longer an option. There’s a “stop on a dime” precision feeling to the whole song, but it’s the two-minute mark that shines.

In fact, it finds the band putting on a fucking clinic, winding a serpentine riff until the song, and ultimately the album itself, ends abruptly. Exhausted and exhilarated, flip the wax over, as it’s endlessly replayable. Rebelmatic straight up delivered. 

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