(BadWolf brings us another installment of the series he started here.)
Murder by Death have one of the best band names I have ever heard—even if it was stolen from a movie, it’s grim, funny, instantly recognizable, and incredibly catchy. In ways, though, it’s misleading—one might expect Murder by Death to be some sort of goofy gore-death band, a Cannibal Corpse ripoff. Not at all—but the music is grim and heavy. Murder by Death are one of my all-time favorite not-metal bands, mostly because of their one absolutely perfect album: Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left of Them. [WWS here out] Props to my folk-punk compadre Dan for turning me on to this band!
Murder by Death play morbid, cinematic rock mixed with noisy post-hardcore plus a folk-and-country edge—think a little bit of The Eagles, a little Modest Mouse, a little bit of Godspeed! You Black Emperor, and a buttload of Nick Cave. Their music stands as almost completely unique—especially at this stage in their career—and twists into frequently unsettling passages. Shortly after WWS, the band experienced a slight lineup change and focused more and more on the country elements of their music. I assure you their later output is still quality, but on WWS the disparate elements of their sound stood in perfect synchronicity. It is also probably their heaviest record—perhaps a direct result of playing Hellfest the year before.
[Yes, that’s Eddie from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son on her cello!]
But that performance is not typical of Murder by Death. Here is a more iconic song from this record.
You will first notice that their singer, Adam Turla, does one hell of a Johnny Cash impression. The man in black’s shadow looms over the desolate towns and eroding foothills that populate their soundscapes—but he looms over much of Metallica, Danzig, and Pantera as well. You will notice second that Murder by Death prominently feature Sarah Balliet’s cello. Without her, their music’s jangling staccato style would not conjure half the sweeping images it specializes in.
And on WWS, Murder by Death spin those images into a cohesive concept album storyline the likes of which Mastodon would envy. WWS tells the story of a dust-blown town on the Mexican border barely kept running by an alcoholic sheriff—until he shoots Satan, who then spreads his tyranny over the hamlet, causing discord, mayhem, and eventually a thought-crime type police state. I guess that’s what you get when your singer/guitarist majored in religious studies. For those interested, Turla breaks down the entire concept, song-by-song, at this link.
My favorite song on the record is actually one of the quieter tracks—and the video single. “Until Morale Improves (The Beatings Will Continue)” foreshadows the more Americana direction the band followed, but at the same time excels with its numerous crescendos and especially the creepy vocal effects on Turla’s voice during the chorus.
It’s heavy stuff and heady stuff—mirroring the music perfectly. A gritty, morose edge runs through every thread of every performance on the record. It comes highly, HIGHLY recommended—for nights of hard drinking and dark thoughts.