If Murder by Death was a painting, they'd be 19th century landscape art, the small human figures in the lower foreground dwarfed by their natural surroundings. The menace of a storm cloud spills over craggy mountain peaks, much as Sarah Balliet's cello trickles over frontman Adam Turla's booming basso. Cutting through the heart of the picture, a frothy, white-capped torrent symbolizes the indomitable rush of Murder by Death's dark, bold roots rock.
The Bloomington, Ind., quintet — ever skillful and inventive — will release their sixth album, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, Sept. 25 via Bloodshot. Bitter producer John Congleton has been on one helluva hot streak the past few years (St. Vincent, Baroness, Wye Oak, Explosions in the Sky, Clinic, The Walkmen, The War on Drugs), and what's more, he's had Murder by Death on his mind since he spoke with the band eight years ago.
"I spoke to him, and he immediately was like, 'I can't believe I haven't done a record with you yet,' " says Turla. "He said, 'I've always enjoyed your records, but I always wished they were spookier sounding.' "
Not only does Congleton attempt to accentuate the band's naturally foreboding vibe with Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, he also receives help from Swans' Thor Harris, who layers some background creepiness — much of it via instruments he created himself — on four tracks.
Topically, Turla — a former religious studies major — stays within his wheelhouse. Murder by Death's albums are often passion plays rife with issues of perdition, sin, vengeance and sacrifice. Turla has penned concept albums featuring the devil venting his animus on a Mexican town (2003's Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them?), a story inspired by Dante's Inferno (2006's In Bocca al Lupo) and a bloodthirsty pursuit à la No Country For Old Men (2008's Red of Claw and Tooth). The forthcoming LP similarly delves into life's seedy underbelly, evoking a Lynchian air.
"It has kind of Twin Peaks vibe," says Turla, "where sometimes there's a song where it seems like it's just a straightforward rock song, but there are a lot of weird things going on underneath the surface — whether it's lyrically or strange subtones that we added."
During the current tour, MBD is celebrating the 10th anniversary of their debut, Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing, by playing five songs from it.
"We thought it'd be cool for the fans for us to revisit that record, because a lot of people have never heard it," says Turla. "It's interesting because it almost feels like someone else wrote them in a way. It's a long time ago. We were 18 when we wrote them, and so in a way, a different person did."
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