Music Review: MURDER BY DEATH: Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon

posted by dpm on 10/28/2012


Murder By Death came to me in the summer of 2007 on the cusp of my trip to Ireland with good friend Michael Reardon and the album 'In Boca Al Lupo' would become our soundtrack for the experience. The album became our third partner, slotting itself in every crack and pocket of the trip. 'Dead Men and Sinners' gave us our sea legs and we were pirates of the Atlantic crossing oceans to climb the sea-stacks of lore that summer, just as 'Boy Decide' helped us try life on for size and first ascend bold free solos on the secluded Irish isle of Inis Mor. Just as 'Boca' served as my travel mate for Ireland, I had a new friend this September in France when 'Bitter Moon, Bitter Drink' landed in my lap one cold and overcast morning, accompanying me on a day of inner-city Parisian exploration. The album suited travels in and out of the mysterious city taking me to the highs on the hill of Sacre Coeur and the lows of the Denfert Les Catacombes. 

Murder by Death. Photo: Craig Whitaker/

Murder by Death, formed in 2000 in Bloomington, Indiana, is a quintet that has formed a cult-like following and has shown a passionate work ethic and appreciation for their music and fans. Their sixth album, 'Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon', is a fantastic journey with the band exploring a new path, another step away from their anything but traditional previous 5 albums. This musical journey has been paired with them crow-funding a side endeavor by producing a vinyl edition of the album through a project, becoming the third highest grossing music project on the site. Fans who are lucky enough to get their hands on one of these records will be "presented with the art in glorious large format, which makes each record a keepsake and a treasure," according to the project's kickstarter page.

Once you have delved into the album, you are greeted with the somber and afflicted 'My Hill', a depressing story of a lost landscape that once was a haven and has since become a hell. Lead singer Adam Turla takes you down this lonely road right off the bat and passes you off into the sweet flow of Sarah Balliet's cello on 'Lost River,' which ushers you into a much more upbeat and orchestrated song than we have heard from MBD in the past. The music is uplifting with guest vocalist Samantha Crain and Adam singing together as a duet, yet the underlying message rings true of most of MBD themes, and reminds us there is a sad story that is about to unfold in this album. You hear what they are saying "Hush now, creature / Dry your eyes / I know a place / Where a body can hide,"  but the crescendo in the music lifts your soul and lets you know it's ok to let go. Adam Turla tells Rolling Stone "The song is about a lover who drowned in the river calling out and beckoning the living to join them".

I was lucky enough to bring this album into the forest of Fontainebleau outside of Paris. It's here where the album took shape once again to the landscape, wandering through the endless green forest searching for the boulders. The album keeps pace with you on ups and downs, your journey accompanied by the newest band mate and multi-instrumentalist Scott Brackett. Scott came from Okkervil River and Shearwater and adds to the multilayered panorama that is Murder By Death. Scott adds the accordion, banjo, trumpet, piano, mandolin, percussion and vocals. As Scott lost me in his multidimensional lesson in instruments I finally found myself in the midst of grey sandstone giants of the forest on another dark and cloudy day, fitting for the lyrics beneath the music throughout the album.

'Straight at the Sun' will get your blood moving with it rawkus pace delivered from drummer Dagan Thorgerson and bassist Matt Armstrong reminiscent of the quicker paces found in their 2008 album 'Red of Tooth and Claw'. Just as you are riding their harmonic high, Balliet's ominous cello lulls you into 'No Oath, No Spell' , making you question the simplicity of slipping into death as the strings of her cello seem to weep to the story Adam relays to the listeners. The melodic highs and lows continue throughout the body of the album kicking it off with the finely produced 'I Came Around' and 'Hard Work', making you want to sing along at the top of your lungs. MDB returns to some of their Johnny Cash-esque country roots in 'rambling', peaking with a rowdy gathering of Turla's rocking energy. Brackett's piano and Balliet's cello blend effortlessly on the beautifully desolate instrumental of 'Queen Mab'.

Bringing the album to a close on its last chapter, Turla resonates the shadowy story of the album hard in the harrowing tales from 'Go to the Light' and 'Oh, to be an Animal'. Stating in his tormented manner, through the lines of both songs, 'But if there's nothing on the other side / why can't I leave well enough alone and go to the light' and 'It's the Loneliest of Times'. It wouldn't be a proper ending to a MBD album without a distinct parting song. As the ballad builds, Turla is accompanied by horns and strings as he is serenaded off into the sunset of the album on "Ghost Fields", leaving you reaching out to hit the repeat button for one more spin of the record.

Murder By Death has done it again, giving its fans another side to the multifaceted rock that they have become, ever-changing but always true to themselves. 'Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon' may not amaze you in on its first spin, which seems to be the only flaw in the album, but if you are like me it will become your best friend, soon enough your anthem and soundtrack for many journeys to come.

Murder By Death will be the featured artist on the new 'STASH' video from DCProductions and Damon Corso Photography 'Tee up & Clean up' on

For a free sample of the album courtesy of the band, please check out their song 'Lost River' available for free download here

By Damon Corso