Saturday, 9 May 2009

REVIEW: O'death - Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin

By my own reckoning, I have been extremely restrained in holding off on posting a blubbering review of this record in the last few weeks. It has been an almost daily listen since I belatedly - it was released in June last year - stumbled across it last month and making only cursory allusions to it in mixed posts has been a trial. Nonetheless, these things must stand the test of time and graduate from the initial lust phase......something 'Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin' achieves with nary a nostalgic glance back to the initial courtship.

From the initial banjo twangs of Lowtide, this album lets loose with a riotous mixture of whiskey-soaked Americana and off kilter gypsy punk. The songs are short sharp shocks, blazing by in a blur of unhinged fiddles, wailed lyrics, and thunderous percussion. Not until fourth track, Mountain Shifts, do proceedings slow to a more sedate pace, affording a brief opportunity to reflect - via drunken, slurred sing along - on the glorious urgency just displayed. Even then, the break is only temporary, with the band swiftly moving back to a blazing alt-country stomp at the first chance. Not to gloss over the tracks that have already whipped by, Fire on Peshtigo and Legs to Sin - along with the aforementioned opener - provide one of the strongest starts to an album I can recall in a good while.

It comes as no surprise to learn that various drum equipment - not to mention scrap metal - was utilised, and subsequently laid to waste, during the recording of this album. The percussion is one of the strongest features on 'Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin', rivalling the furious strings for the sonic spotlight. Just listening to the deep snare on Grey Sun alone offers images of the threat that precedes a Western bar brawl. Now that we touch on it, the entire album conjures rapid and varied imagery ranging from the simple, down home back country to the psychedelic forms more associated with stoner rock. The album artwork fits beautifully with the sound, displaying bizarre works of children with voids for faces and inverted, skewed Americana images. Blurred, confused visuals to offset a loose, unrestrained sound that veers off in whatever direction appears appropriate at any given moment.

Back with specific tracks, Crawl Through Snow serves up a mixed tempo, sounding at once gloriously celebratory and darkly morose ("Angels fool the light / Arms fall off in fever"). On An Aching Sea stumbles in with the air of a drunken barn dance and exits almost as abruptly, leaving it to the following Angeline to return an air of rare decorum to the album with its more standard song structure and longest duration at just under 5 minutes. In a strange way this is O'death's ballad, although it maintains the same morbid undertones that run through the entire album and is unlikely to receive any radio great loss. Lean To ends the album in much the same way it started, with a punchy blaze of strings and pounding drums that is gone almost before you know it has arrived, announcing quite clearly "I'm gonna leave here / I'm gonna leave her / I'm gonna leave you".

O'Death - Legs To Sin - Live @ Bowery Ballroom from Kemado Records on Vimeo.

Despite a tendency towards various bleak, semi-apocalyptic visions, there exists a positive duality on 'Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin' that only adds to its charm and repeat appeal. The album has been dedicated to the memory of drummer David Rogers-Berry's fiancé, who died of an aneurysm in late 2007. A short, unassuming tribute to her life is placed in the centre of the album, offering some firm hope ("Light comes from breaks in the clouds / Of a place that I doubt / Light comes") amongst the uncertainty and schizophrenia of the rest of the album. Again, this is a touching personal element that only lends extra depth to what is already a thoroughly engaging listen.

Sometimes there is only so much one can say about music before it becomes self-defeating and repetitive. The best way to experience this album is, as usual, to purchase the package of your choice (I have a feeling the full vinyl LP look s gorgeous with this artwork) and delve into the nooks and crannies. The best I can say is that 'Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin' both uplifts and entangles the listener simultaneously, far from outstaying its welcome and dragging one back time after time.

Embrace the weird and wonderful world of O'death and you will be exploring its seemingly contradictory nuances for many a month to come.

Official Site / Myspace

Buy it at Insound!

MP3's: over here for another source though.

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