Release Date: Feb 3, 2015
Record label: Bloodshot
Murder By Death's Big Dark Love is a walloping triumph of great roots songwriting. It's a record that takes on that biggest and most trodden upon of subjects, love, examines it from a seemingly endless array of angles and manages to never sound or feel like old ground. There's a constant tug of war between the highs and lows that love brings — every time the dark threatens to take over on tracks like the opening "I Shot an Arrow" or the gripping title-track, blasts of joyous sound fight back and re-establish ground for love.
“Let me in / With my big, dark love,” Adam Turla intones repeatedly on the latest Murder By Death album. Here he assumes the role of the Big Bad Wolf, with the instrumentation swirling around him to ratchet up the tension and force. Rather than tender swine, the narrator is banging on the door in search of compulsive sex to fill his id, more a carnal menace than paramour.
Murder by Death's best music often sounds like the soundtrack to some unproduced film in which the denizens of a remote community wrestle with good and evil, and that's certainly the case with 2015's Big Dark Love, in which the eclectic Indiana quintet ponders the many aspects of love. Of course, this being Murder by Death, love isn't a fun experience in a significant majority of these songs, running from the dashed hopes of the opening track "I Shot an Arrow" and the unhealthy stalker's fantasy of "Dream in Red" to the jaunty meditation of parental affection in "Natural Pearl" and the snowbound longings of "Last Thing. " The rich dynamics of the group's lineup, with cello, horns, steel guitar, banjo, and mandolin weaving themselves through the guitars and drums, certainly suits the wide emotional spectrum of Big Dark Love's songs, and Adam Turla's vocals are flexible enough to complement the many moods of the songs, though he fares best when the melodies allow him to make use of the subtle country twang that bubbles up on the album's rootsier numbers.
Even though this Bloomington, Indiana band’s name was derived from a satiric Neil Simon comedy, and previous album titles include the self-deprecating Like the Exorcist but More Break Dancing and Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them, there’s little else humorous about Murder by Death’s music. Over the course of nearly 15 years and six previous releases (on as many different labels), the band has carved out a unique musical direction partially conveyed in this disc’s title; big and dark. Any love involved is bound to be informed by ominous implications, especially those of the gloomy variety.
Like most of the songs on Murder by Death’s seventh studio album, "The Last Thing" follows a character as he tiptoes along the line between life and death. Details are always tantalizingly scant in Adam Turla's lyrics, but the narrator seems to have decided that he would rather embrace darkness and death than burden his loved ones any longer. "I just don’t want to be another chore, some wounded bird to care for," he sings over a manically strummed guitar, a rambling banjo, and a live-wire bass.
The concept album often poses a risk for musicians. It’s the kind of gamble that has resulted in both Pet Sounds and Machina/The Machines of God. At this point, it’s hard to call Murder by Death gamblers, but they are certainly not strangers to thematic compositions. Most of MBD’s discography consists of concept albums, and their latest, Big Dark Love, is no exception.