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Album Review: Death Wheelers – I Tread On Your Grave

Instrumental Canadian quartet Death Wheelers are releasing their debut full-length I Tread On Your Grave on RidingEasy Records this month, with three tracks available to preview now on Bandcamp. Not having seen any of the bikespoitation movies that are sampled on this album (such as The Wild Angels, Werewolves on Wheels, and Psychomania, per the PR promo), I initially felt unqualified to review this album. I did, however, recognize the Pink Flamingo sound bite on “Roadkill” and I love nothing better than a deep, dirty groove, so I was hooked by the beginning of the third track. And I think I’m going to try and find a copy of Werewolves on Wheels, because that sounds fun as hell.

The band credits themselves as Max “The Axe” Tremblay on “loud pipes,” Sy “Wild Rye” Tremblay on “fender bender,” Richard “The Bastard” Turcotte on “battery acid,” and Hugo “Red Beard” Bertacchi on “tire screeches.” I’ll let you play at deciphering who is responsible for which sound, but the creative handles play well with the motorcycle theme.

I Tread on Your Grave is a dirty, down-home swamp blues album with an energetic punk rock edge and outlaw aesthetics that give it the punch of danger and violence. The contrast of deep foreboding fuzz with southern blues twang on lead guitar works well over satisfying doom, stoner, and heavy metal riffs. The Death Wheelers describe the concept behind the album:

Decimated in 1972 by local authorities, all members of The Death Wheelers, a notorious motorcycle club, have been buried at the Surrey cemetery. But the time has come and they have risen for their last ride. They’re back from the grave and they’re hungry for blood! Nothing can stop this gang of living dead from recruiting new members as they travel coast to coast to find the filthiest, nastiest, trashiest individuals to join their ranks. Their goal, assemble a legion of 13 discycles to seek revenge on the pigs that dismantled the club and send them to their graves. The cycle of violence continues.

The first of the three tracks available for preview, “I Tread on Your Grave” brings the album up to speed with full, thumping sound by the third measure. The band quickly takes rhythmic derivations, stepping up to double time and adding some twang. The solos have acid rock tendencies, sometimes petering out and leaving the listener on the edge of her seat, only to revisit the theme later in the song and bring it to climax. “13 Discycles” opens with the same immediacy, like a group of motorcycles riding over the hill — there all at once, inescapable, and impossible to ignore.

By the third track, “Roadkill,” I noticed that Death Wheelers employ a pattern of oscillating between high octane metal riffs with slow doom intersections. Shifting my attention from song structure, I realized I really like the quality of their sound: filthy and devil-may-care, somehow lazy and violent at once. Happily, the fourth track “Sleazy Rider Returns” breaks the aforementioned pattern with a lilting opening riff, a depressed secondary motif, and a strangely clean and demure solo that takes the song out in just over two minutes. “Deaf Wheelers” uses unexpected syncopation to keep the songwriting from becoming formulaic (if the rhythmic variation didn’t catch your attention, the cheeky funeral dirge in the outro is sure to), and “Black Crack” introduces sharply attacked, staccato notes in the opposing theme. Both “Moto Vampiro” and “Purple Wings” are easy, fun songs with the some surfer rock influence bleeding through the former, and the latter consisting of a lo-fi recording allowing you imagine catching an intimate live performance. These help to break up the album and offer contrast, and if you imagine the undead bikers stopped at an open mic, you can forgive the fact that they take away from the concept of the album as a soundtrack to a horror film.

“Back Stabber” kicks back into gear with a punk rock beat, adding a tinge of violence with percussive chord changes and turning toward the horizon with a legato blues resolution. “RIP (Last Ride)” is a more homogenous outing that gives the guitarists enough time to develop their statements; the shorter solos prevalent in preceding songs are by nature difficult to find your feet and tell a story in, so it’s satisfying to hear longer ideas expressed on the final guitar-centric excursion. “Moby Dick” begins with a more traditional stoner rock riff intro, but the drums break up the repetition with fills and embellishments until the strings give up, stop dead, and step away to make room for an impressive drum solo, featuring at least two percussionists and all the bells (literally) and whistles (not literally).

The sleaze-n-roll B-movie soundtrack feels like a constant rush — the gang’s racing down the highway and you are along for the ride. Hang on tight, because it’s bound to be relentless, with no holds barred. When the music slows into the doom riff, it’s as though the crew has rolled into a small town. Forced to idle at stop lights, they strike terror into the the agrarian denizens before rip-roaring on to the next district. Although the concept is obvious throughout the album, it can at times feel like a collection of similar songs rather than a narrative. Adding more thematic contrast could put their next album over the top, although this is a very solid debut. Recorded full band, with no vocals or studio magic, I Tread on Your Grave stands true to the Death Wheelers’ axiom of rawness and power.

Check out the preview tracks now and preorder the album on CD or vinyl on Bandcamp. It will be available from RidingEasy Records on May 11th. 

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