In Bocca Al Lupo
By: Eric Greenwood
On its second album, Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them? (a title knicked from a Texas Chainsaw Massacre promotional movie poster), Bloomington, Indiana's Murder By Death weaved a thematic story of the devil's infiltration of a small Mexican town with a western-tinged twist on its cinematic, sweeping rock.
For In Bocca Al Lupo, released on the band's own Tent Show records, Murder By Death delves deeper into questions of the afterlife, employing the seven layers of hell in Dante's Inferno as its skeletal thematic scope. Of course, it's outrageously pretentious terrain, but Murder By Death has the musical chops to flaunt its aesthetic daring-do with such panache.
Though the devil still haunts him, lyrically, vocalist Adam Turla isn't as tied to the thematic indulgences of the last record, which allows for a looser, more varied atmosphere. Each song unfurls as a story unto itself, but the narrative is more expansive. The band's tour-toughened sound has evolved as well, incorporating odd time signatures, bustling pirate chants, early minor country, and an animated, orchestral backdrop to its dark, artsy rock, though none of it quite captures the band's blistering live intensity.
Turla sounds genuinely possessed with the vigor of a man who has sinister secrets to share. His affected whisper scratch vocal on "One More Notch" builds into a tempest of bleated dynamism. The rollicking roll of "Brother" stands out immediately among the band's best with its resigned refrain: "Well, I know there's better brothers/but you're the only one that's mine." It's a tightly wound country/folk rocker, which snowballs in intensity with each chorus until its calamitous climax. Sarah Balliet's dual role on keys and cello tightens the band's insular histrionics, while the rhythm section tries relentlessly to punch through the artistry with its latent post-punk intensity.
With grueling precision and continuing confidence, Murder By Death whips through its dramatic passages, as Turla unveils his dense, learned, and richly symbolic tales of sin, regret, pain, loss, and punishment. It's an engrossing and engaging record full of shout-along choruses, clever wordplay, and urgent, rocking, and string-laden crescendos that should propel this band above the emo fray that seems to have latched onto it.