Some bands build catalogs over the years. Murder by Death has built a universe. Over more than two decades together, they have released eight deeply immersive albums, each one subtly broadening their sonic and thematic limits, and exploring what the band is truly capable of. “I almost think of it as a series of novels,” frontman Adam Turla says of their work. “Something I consider every time we work on a new album is: How do we expand, but still keep it in the world of Murder by Death?” On their ninth album, Spell/Bound, the band has taken their largest leap forward into lavish, spaced-out territory only hinted at on previous records.
While Spell/Bound still rests on Murder by Death’s gothic Western backbone, it also pulls from an unlikely palate of musical inspiration. “Sonically, the direction we explored was more in the vein of almost trip-hop, like Massive Attack and Portishead, where we were trying to lean into a vibe that was chill but dark. We wanted it to be a record that was lush but not necessarily a wall of sound,” Turla says. The band’s musical language took further influence from other unusual sources. “Sometimes we wanted it to sound like the Blade Runner soundtrack, or the work Goblin did for the Argento movies, or we’d want the listener to feel like they were in the movie Labyrinth. I remember saying at one point that I wanted to add something that sounded like evil crystals.”
To thicken their ever evolving and increasingly ambitious sound, Murder by Death added a sixth member for Spell/Bound, Emma Tiemann, whose violin work complements Sarah Balliet’s haunting cello, a beloved staple of the band’s identity. After two pandemic years of fine-tuning and adjusting, the songs were finally laid down in California by producer Kevin Ratterman. On some tracks, like “Everything Must Rest,” this robust new lineup was able to produce a straightforward pop jam laced with an 80s Cure guitar lick over a simple, catchy hook. But on others, like “Incantation,” they unleashed an all-out orchestrated arrangement that feels like a winding road through dark and treacherous woods. Spell/Bound takes wild and unpredictable leaps at every turn, obliterating expectations and preconceived notions about what the band can pull off. In other words, entirely fitting for a Murder by Death album.
The universe Murder by Death has built over the years is not just relegated to their music, though. They’ve amassed a devoted cult following that has gleefully followed them through their wildest projects, like their Christmas album, their three records of cover songs, and their iconic annual performances in a subterranean cave in Tennessee and at the Stanley Hotel, the eerie building in Colorado that inspired The Shining. But even though the band consistently sells an enviable number of records and can fill rooms all over the world, mainstream recognition has largely eluded Murder by Death. Maybe it’s the name—as unmarketable as it is misleading. Or maybe it’s the dense grandiosity of their music—Turla has described the band’s previous album, 2018’s The Other Shore, as “a Western space opera,” after all. Whatever the reason, Murder by Death has always had to boldly pave their own path through the music industry by fostering their own secret universe.murderbydeath.com/