Review Summary: The Devil is shot in a Mexican town. Cue the title card.
I was initially tempted to peg Murder By Death as Nick Cave with Post-Hardcore sensibilities: the fascination with American roots music within the framework of Post-Punk, the Gothic sensibility and focus on lurid and grotesque storytelling are all hallmarks of Nick’s style that come through in Murder By Death. But the younger band has a sly, subtle sense of humor and a flair for the cinematic that ol’ Nick never really showed. It can hardly be argued that a band which titled their debut “Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing” take themselves too seriously. But even though all the gloom has that slightly tongue in cheek quality that marks the best Gothic music, it’s still weighty, instrumentally rich stuff. Without the dynamic, dramatic interplay between piano, cello, Hammond organ and rock instruments, this concept album about the Devil getting shot in a Mexican town and wreaking his terrible, voodoo-zombie revenge could have been just an outlandish goof, a fun novelty not meant to be taken seriously. But the concept of the album, as eccentric as it might be on paper, belies a lyrical depth drawn from singer Adam Turla’s religious studies and a knack for setting stark, Sergio Leone-esque imagery into words.
Who Will Survive and What Will be Left of Them (the title is drawn from the tagline of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, incidentally) is far more rooted in dark, catchy Post-Punk than it is in Alternative Country; piano and strings exist more to provide cinematic flare and drama than act within a traditionally Country music framework and the songs are far too complex in structure to be called Country, but this foreboding, dramatic sound gives the horror-movie concept credibility. It’s dark without ever being too self-serious, catchy without sliding into the songwriting pitfalls of spiritual bedfellows My Chemical Romance and varied and dynamic enough to sustain its main conceit for its 42 minute runtime without any real missteps or superfluous elements. The production is a little muddy, and Adam Turla’s vocals sometimes fall short of the dramatic vista he’s laying out for the listener, but it’s nothing that should deter any listener. Any flaws this album carries with it should be treated like the occasional poor dubbing or blatant anachronism in a Sergio Leone flick: noticed briefly, and then cast aside in the dust swept panorama laid out before the audience. It’s endlessly more fun that way.