Just the new guy here. Don’t stand up.
Anyway, this is going to be my first post here, and for good reason: I love this band.
When I first got Murder By Death’s sophomore release Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left of Them? I was impressed.
I saw them in Rochester a few months ago, and now I am a full fledged convert. They just rock hard.
Also, I got to talk to everyone after the show, including the guys from Sleep Station, who’s work I will try to squeeze in here as well, and they are all such decent folk, I decided, “Hey, let’s post an old review to get people used to how I think!”
Now we can be friends.
If I haven’t lost you already, the review starts below.
And thank you in advance for reading.
It’s a fairly rare occurrence when a band kind of slips “under my radar.” I am pretty good at recognizing when a band is about to do something big, or when they are set for a break out. Murder by Death’s Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them? is one of those occasions that I missed its release, but made up for it by getting on board with them as soon as possible. Granted, they aren’t huge enough for me to be a “bandwagon” fan, but as a life-long Dolphins fan knows, sometimes you have to hitch your cart elsewhere, just to remember what being “great” is.
As for MbD (as I will refer to them henceforth, in accordance with my rules on keeping it real), I didn’t go to any of their opening dates with Lacuna Coil, as, frankly, I am not much of a “metal” fan. I just out grew that phase (for me it was a phase) but when my buddy Jon told me about them, I sounded interested. Honestly, I was getting kinda bored with a great deal of the music I was hearing on the radio, but who isn’t? So, I bought the CD, opened it up, and was immediately struck my the simplicity of the packaging. These kids, still in college, managed to create quite an image in concert, from my buddy’s opinion, which I trust, but I was intrigued. The outer sleeve was black; just a few words there to strike up your imagination. So I put it in the stereo…and I wasn’t disappointed.
See, knowing that this band was playing to sold out dates with metal acts, I was expecting some head banging nonsense. Instead, I got an intelligently crafted concept album with a lot of questions left unanswered.
The opening track “The Devil in Mexico” shows that the band has its tongue firmly planted in its collective cheeks, in that while the concept of the destruction of an entire town has a “cheesy” quality to it, they show that they were not only talented enough to do it, but that they were sold on the concept. Honestly, who would think of the devil arriving at a saloon in a Midwestern town, only to be shot in the back by a local, thus inspiring his wrath? Well, five EXTREMELY bright college kids did just that.
Now, in this day and age, a woman being in a rock band is nothing new. I guess we can all thank Debbie Harry, Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, and, as a modern example, Gwen Stefani for keeping it “cool” to rock. I am not really sure if I think that No Doubt rocks, but you get the analogy, right?
Well, on top of appearing to be very well-educated folks, they also did what very few bands can do: successfully segue a CELLO into every song. Granted, its just another stringed instrument, but its distinct sound, and the play of Sarah Balliet, make it work this time. Think Yellowcard, but with more ambient noise, and not in a Sigur Ros kind of way…that’s Balliet’s style. She drives most of the songs, and without her, this band would be a dramatically different project.
“Killbot 2000″ features my favorite line on the album: “Carry their little bodies to the cemetary so gently, Please don’t let their necks crook towards the ground.” I kinda giggle at the idea of a modern plague ravaging this fictional town. I guess I am a little “off” that way. And, to boot, Geoff Rickly of Thursday provides backup vocals on the track. If you like Thursday, you can DEFINITELY tell that it’s him, as his shrieking/whining/wailing thing that he does is fairly familiar. Hell, he’s done it forever now, if you count three albums as forever, that is.
Now, I really wish I could sit down and ask these guys three questions.
1) Do you listen to a LOT of Bright Eyes?
2) Why so much piano?
3) Why a concept album?
It’s not that Conor Oberst is a bad guy to emulate, but at points it seems as though Adam Turla has listened to every disc the man has pressed at least six times.. Since I love Bright Eyes, this isn’t a knock, just a serious point to make.
In “The Desert is on Fire,” singer Turla talks about the demonic assaults from another perspective, that of the demons watching the carnage they are causing. “I’ll leave a trail of fire across this desert just to see the desperation in your eyes.” The first 5 tracks are much more somber and hopeless, so it is a great twist to have the tempo change once the demons are at play.
So, how would you rate a sophomore effort of a midwestern college student? Pretty highly, actually. In this day and age, a band has to do something SPECTACULAR to turn my head. Murder by Death’s Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them? is a refreshing change of pace. Few concept albums are coming out in this day and age, but I am willing to wager that almost NONE of the others have a cello. Balliet is an accomplished cellist, and it shows. There is a surprising amount of levity added to these dark pieces with her play.
Drummer Alex Schrodt’s percussion leads you on a twisting journey of rage and fear, as this quiet town’s fate unfolds. There are songs that, honestly, he just goes off, and not in a Van Halen or 80s hair metal sort of way. He just keeps at it; cymbals crashing, snares snapping, always setting a sonic backdrop for the band. His play, along with Balliet’s and pianist Vincent Edward’s, is really what makes Murder by Death what it is. They aren’t Alternative, though for lack of a better term, that’s where these guys will fall in most record stores.
Eyeball Records, the band’s label, is really doing a great job at getting these guys out there. They’ve been touring with Rasputina as well, all a sort of “cross pollination” of the fan base. Then again, if these five college kids can convert die-hard hardcore fans, I think the sky is the limit for them.