Murder By Death has always been at its best when playing up the tension between its twin muses: beauty and terror. On its sixth album “Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon,” the group continues its successful streak of dark indie rock records.
A completely new sound for the Bloomington, Ind., band, the album opener “My Hill” is like goth pop fusing with bluegrass.
In “Lost River” lead vocalist Adam Turla’s rich baritone commands “Hush now, creature / Dry your eyes / I know a place where a body can hide,” as a quickly-picked guitar and Sarah Balliet’s cello strains float before erupting into a sonic burst more akin to the group’s first album, 2002’s “Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing.”
Later in the newest album, “Ramblin'” is the kind of tough-as-nails rock song the group has always excelled at, with Turla snarling “I’ve got nothing to lose.” The guitar work is ferocious and the track must rank among the heaviest songs the band has ever written.
Not everything works, though. The upbeat song “I Came Around” sounds like something the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy would compose in a lazy fit of morbidity. Similarly, “Hard World” does little with its punk rhythm, sounding like it was crafted to keep a Gaslight Anthem crowd interested (Murder By Death often finds itself on the road supporting punk bands, and it is slated to find itself in Columbus opening for Say Anything Oct. 14). Luckily the album picks back up in the home stretch, with the haunting sounds of “Go to the Light,” “Oh, To Be An Animal,” and gripping closer “Ghost Fields.”
Over the past 10 years, Murder By Death has carved an impressive niche for itself, playing gorgeous songs about grim subjects. “Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon” continues this tradition, and is one of the band’s most impressive efforts to date.