Midwestern quintet and band of whiskey aficionados Murder By Death digs deep into its Indiana roots on Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. Supported by fans through the third-highest-funded campaign on Kickstarter and backed by Bloodshot Records, the band took the low and slow approach to writing this time around, and the result is a chilling sixth release and an appropriate followup to the band’s 2010 release, Good Morning, Magpie.
The album finds its tone immediately with “My Hill,” where a quiet, steady and slow guitar follows vocalist Adam Turla’s deep lament, mournful and bold. “Lost River” picks up slightly, Turla carrying the melody in the chorus with Sarah Balliet’s cello working well off of newcomer Scott Brackett’s (formerly of Okkervil River) keyboards. The song is the perfect stepping stone in the album’s gradual climb. Next, the more upbeat “Straight At The Sun” starts off with a moody bassline and confident drums, and it’s a nice switch when the roars and wails during the bridge come soaring in, courtesy of producer John Congleton.
Balliet and Brackett become a power duo on “No Oath, No Spell,” but the pair can barely hold a candle to Turla’s impassioned vocal delivery on the track. His full-bodied voice comes straight from the bottom of the barrel—it’s his most soulful performance on the record. “I Came Around” is one of the more upbeat tracks on Bitter Drink, a shuffling drum and a big chorus accompanying dark, depressing lyrics (“Now I sit weeping by your coffin, clutching a bottle in my fist”). They keep the momentum up with “Hard World,” where Turla gives us his best Johnny Cash impression, with whoas in the chorus, a rambling electric guitar an Balliet providing bleak backup vocals.
The band lets up just slightly on “Dutch Lilly,” where things get grim with a ghostly tinge on both vocals and instruments. Murder By Death takes it and runs with it, embracing the morbidity on “The Curse Of Elkhart,” giving Brackett’s keys an organ-like groan. “Ramblin’” is heavier and shows some teeth with a little distortion cutting through Turla’s howl, and “Queen Mab” serves as a creepy piano interlude to the last three tracks. “Go To The Light” and “Oh, To Be An Animal” are both haunting croons, but the band lightens up slightly on “Ghost Fields.” The group took more time crafting these songs, and because of that, the album seems almost effortless.