by Ryan Doyle Elward
Big Dark Love, the seventh album from Midwest group Murder by Death proves both similar and quite unlike any prior work, advancing in a two steps forward, one step back motion. Done by providing familiar instrumentation while introducing entirely new sounds, as such heard in the robust piano keyed “I Shot an Arrow,” wherein misaimed ideas are scattered amongst patches of blanched prairie grass in a desolate landscape. “Strange Eyes” is a sweetly magical tune of delightfully mysterious constitution, throttled by an unforgettably husky cello. A masterful vessel for what may likely be the most poetic of the album. “Send Me Home” arrives with coaxing brass of Van Morrison ilk, dipping into their previous release Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon and the hopeful, inspirational nectar that can be heard in “Lost River.”
By this time, many releases later, the voice being at one point a sticker of discussion has since diminished in focus. Though again, note the absolute bemusement that occurs in knowing the source of the voice, and once seen, recognizing the disparity between this figure and the unexpected smoky, grandfatherly tones that resonate in our souls, and settle deep in our bones.
Notes of Southern Gothic, various blended country and folk elements, and hearty, Midwestern zeal collide to form an indescribable warming sensation, full of unifying, epic qualities. Perhaps the most valuable detail of this latest effort is the genre bending essence, in that it is not strictly anything. Just as soon as you begin to peg it as this or that specifically, it rolls in the dirt, muddying itself of any pure categorization.
Several Murder by Death albums tackle a theme, or linger close to a storyline. Much the same, Big Dark Love examines the idea of departure. Possibly leaving a particular style of life, a personal escape. Not belonging physically, or otherwise, a feeling of not being able to continue. Depart to death? Not to know, not just yet.
Often choosing to attack a concept from both viewable angles, immersion is as strongly spoken of as departure, in this instance both designed to engage products of love. Weighed both vaguely as well as personally, most importantly the idea is that it is a consuming, inescapable love. Once experienced, this love throws you into the cutting edge of addiction, the sober withdrawal, and the bleak recognition that a certain brand of love will hold that power over you forever.
“Hunted” wraps the album in a hard, Western reminiscent piece with a bold narrative declaring, “They’re not like us,” left only to imagine that this isolating statement describes the lack of experience or understanding of a big, dark love.