Concept albums have long been considered the kiss of death in Rock, but you couldn’t prove it with the history and catalog of Bloomington, Ind.,’s Murder by Death. When the group first assembled nine years ago under the moniker Little Joe Gould, their ranks included cellist Sarah Balliet and their sound was a blend of Alt.Country and Punk. Within a couple of years, after the band (Balliet, guitarist Adam Turla, percussionist Alex Schrodt, bassist Matt Armstrong, keyboardist Vincent Edwards) had self-released their debut EP, they felt a name change was in order to reflect their unique brand of dark Roots Rock and evocative Post Punk; they christened themselves after the title of an odd 1976 mystery film spoof called Murder by Death.
Before the name shift, the band had toured with Chicago’s Volta Do Mar and polished the batch of songs that would ultimately comprise their 2002 full length debut, Like the Exorcist, But More Breakdancing. The following year, MBD reteamed with Volta Do Mar for the split album Konrad Friedrich Wilhelm Zimmer, the sessions for which also yielded the material for their sophomore full length Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them?, a concept album that told the tale of Satan’s attack on a Mexican village.
In 2004, Edwards left to go back to school and his replacement left shortly after; Balliet absorbed keyboard duties while maintaining her cello assignment. MBD’s third album, 2006’s In Bocca Al Lupo, was another concept piece, a song cycle about various people and their Dantesque sins, done to music that incorporated waltz, jig and Gospel elements into the band’s Post Punk spaghetti western architecture.
Last year marked the departure of Schrodt, who was replaced by Dagan Thorgerson for MBD’s Red of Tooth and Claw, yet another concept piece, this one with a Homerian foundation at its core, albeit one lacking any heroic personality. It is a testament to Murder by Death’s energy and talent that the band is still churning out vibrantly exciting music that crossroads Punk and galloping Western rhythms after nearly 10 years and does it in the service of conceptually and thoughtfully themed works.
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