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Album Review: Murder By Death – Big Dark Love

2 min read

Murder By Death’s Big Dark Love is one of those rare albums that works better in principle than it does in practice. In principle this is a grand collection of Gothic love songs, equal parts beautiful and horrific. In practice, however, it’s an oddly underwhelming listen: a whole lot of sound and fury, ultimately signifying very little.

Murder By Death - Big Dark LoveNot that Big Dark Love is a bad album. Even the album’s least impressive songs have something going for them – album opener I Shot An Arrow might be polished to the point of mediocrity, but there is a certain amount of darkness under its unassuming surface, and although Dream In Red might lyrically be full of Gothic clichés (the list of dark ballads that mention rivers is growing longer by the day) but it features some undeniably powerful string work and an impressive set of vocals.

Solitary One, with its clangy, twangy Southern Rock sound is promising, but collapses under the weight of its own ambition – the track’s horn arrangement detracts from the experience rather than enhances it. Natural Pearl is almost insultingly insipid, and its traditional nostalgic sound calls to mind the work of other far more successful Gothic Folk bands such as The Handsome Family.

It Will Never Die aims for the stars (at least lyrically) but falls flat on its face, mired by a reductive melody; and Hunted’s Morricone-esque guitar solos feel oddly forced. Send Me Home starts well, but soon succumbs to a repetitive, lifeless chorus and a flat vocal delivery.

Title track Big Dark Love is the album’s most successful, and gives a frustrating glimpse of what the album could have been – it mixes the darkness of Murder By Death’s past sound with the slightest touch of pop, and it really works. If the other tracks on the album were as successful, then Big Dark Love could easily rub shoulders with Nick Cave And The Bad Seed’s Murder Ballads and Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan’s Hawk as a truly shining example of the disturbed love ballad genre.

As it stands, however, there’s just not enough going for the album for it to leave even a lasting impression. Big Dark Love would work best as background music for a dinner party made up of your edgier friends: a sad state of affairs indeed for a band that have turned in so many stronger records in the past.