Sound — 7
On their fourth album Red of Tooth and Claw, Murder By Death uses every theatrical nuance to produce a record surging with sonic drama, scoring a theatrical, seemingly cinematic musical experience. Quite the opposite of easy listening, Red Of Tooth And Claw seethes with archetypically American old-west swagger combined with dark foreboding sonic elements. Particularly compelling is the swollen machismo with which the vocal is delivered. Singer/Guitarist Adam Turla seems to be delivering a narrative rather than merely supplying a vocal. This is achieved by the Singer/narrator assuming a vocal affect similar to the manner in which an actor becomes his character. Part Johnny Cash, part something altogether new, this technique is quite effective.
Immediately apparent is the quality of the record's production. MBD worked with Grammy-winning producer Trina Shoemaker to craft a record which accentuates the theatricality and ominous musical presence of the band. On the first track, I'm Coming Home, MBD provides a template as to how the drama will unfold. Minor chords layer and progress to create an ominous unsettling atmosphere in which Turla's menacing vocal snarls a narrative which comes across as downright threatening. The soundtrack to this narrative builds a feeling of movement and urgency culminating in an energetic, engaging, powerful chorus. These elements are apparent throughout the record.
Beneath it all Cellist Sarah Balliet provides string accents which infuse the music with dignity and gravity.
Lyrics — 9
The key to the success of Red of Tooth and Claw is the craftsmanship of the lyrical content. MBD seems to write lyrics with a Hollywood screenwriter's approach. The record is a collection of archetypal themes of the film noir variety. Thematically the content deals with sin, revenge, betrayal, anger, sexual tension, and murder. It is significant to note that Turla, as well as Balliet have degrees in Religious studies and Anthropology, which helps to understand the depth of lyrical analysis of the human condition and experience. Turla describes the scope of the narrative as follows: (it's like a) Homer's odyssey of revenge, only without the honorable character at the center. Indeed, it is with the drive of Odysseus that the narrative proceeds. One can easily recognize the clarity of purpose implicit in the lyric, I'm turning brick walls into doors, I'm coming home. At times the vocal narrative, which is delivered in character, provides a pageant of over-the-top metaphors and images which conspire to weave a sense of context. Like snapshots, the lyrics provide a definite place and time. This focus is particularly effective in painting a picture in a cinematic sense. At times the listener can easily visualize tumbleweeds, or smell the dusty red clay. Measured and skillful, Red of Tooth and Claw is a collection of lyrics which evokes an epic journey, with good and evil in the balance.
Overall Impression — 8
This record surges with urgency, and subsides with restraint, coming together to yield an ominous, heavy journey of theatricality. The first track creates a sense of motion from which the record never looks back. The production values, musical skill, and impressive lyrical content work in tandem to make a fascinating record. Thematically ambitious, musically arresting, and vocally compelling, Red Of Tooth And Claw is a quality offering of authentic human emotion and storytelling.