Murder By Death’s seventh studio album, Big Dark Love, is just that – big, dark, and lovely.
It opens with a punch; an upbeat tune with an underlying lament that sets the stage for an album that weaves through themes of love and loss.
The title track, a slow groove, hits a minor chord driven chorus that is completed by subtle electronic hits, accenting intense lyrics that harken images of a death rattle or an addict’s withdrawal.
A harrowing guitar solo on the bridge reiterates the bluesy base of the song, while frontman Adam Turla begs for his “big dark love” to be let in. It’s one of the more intense tracks on the album and crescendos to a rising end as the once subtle electronics take center stage.
Each Murder By Death album seems to take on its own life. It’s hard to categorize this band, an attractive feature in a world of cookie-cutter, neo-Americana acts. Their music coalesces so many elements of so many styles while remaining centered around a brooding struggle of dark and light.
Sometimes, the night wins and at other times, a ray of sunshine pierces through the dark lyrics and love seems to catapult you into the day. Gothic Americana is really the best descriptor for what Murder By Death is, and does, but that even falls short.
The ability to stay focused on a singular unique sound, yet take chances on new voices in their music (electronic in this case), indicates a group of musicians that aren’t afraid of breaking with the status quo, and embrace an ever-changing world while staying true to honest and pure songwriting.
That’s truly the feature of this album; the songwriting is exquisite and pulls no punches. A trait common to Murder By Death.
“When it came to writing the latest record, I felt so inundated with a certain kind of Americana, just from it exploding onto the public scene, that my natural reaction was just to go the other way and explore the other side of our group,” Turla said in an interview I did with him for Do Savannah in October of last year.
“That’s kind of been the modus operandi of our band. Are a bunch of people doing this right now? They can have it, we’ll do something else. There’s always going to be people that are extremely talented at imitation, or making slight developments on a known thing. That’s not what my strength is and that is not what I am good at doing. I have a vision for the group that we’ve been pushing for a long time. I’d rather it just be our thing with hints of other styles. That’s kind of how we do things.”
Midway through the album you get hit with another powerful ballad, the sixth track and second single, “Send Me Home”.
Helmed by a fuzz-soaked guitar, Turla lyrically paints the deepest, yet simplest, emotions of facing the end of life. “I’d be on my way, if I wasn’t so damn scared,” ends the first verse before the chorus lays out the supplication of the title. The trumpet outro seems to answer the central figure’s request with uplifting, angelic notes.
The album’s end, “Hunted”, is an epic storytelling song that recalls the folk traditions at the foundation of Murder By Death, much like the soundscape to a movie set in the depression era American West. Sarah Balliet’s cello creates a haunting allure in a late bridge, accented by Dagan Thogerson’s big drum fills that carries you deep into the story.
Another of their timeless qualities, Murder By Death paints beautiful pictures both musically and lyrically. After 14 years of relentless touring and continual recording, they have created one of the most unique musical acts to date.
It’s hard to quantify the simplistic beauty and eclectic expanse of Murder By Death’s music. You could span the breadth of their discography and easily find something to speak to your pain, your love, your life, and all things in between.
Big Dark Love hits most of it.
The album officially hits the public on Feb. 3 on Bloodshot Records, but the throng of fans that supported the band via Kickstarter already have their copy. It was recorded at La La Land in Louisville, Ky. in the summer of 2014 and produced by Murder By Death and Kevin Ratterman.