New York based outfit O’Death have built up a reputation over recent years as practitioners of a ragged, incendiary gothic-country-punk rock that beats with a dark, heavy heart. Third album Outside however seems to show a band in the throes of minor change, and sees them deliver a slightly more nuanced collection of songs, albeit one that retains much of their energy and passion. Indeed, it could be possibly viewed as a subconscious reaction to the difficult personal circumstances of one band member, drummer David Rogers-Berry, who in 2009 was diagnosed with bone cancer. He has since returned to the band, minus part of his shoulder that was removed and replaced with a metal plate (although you would never guess given some of the powerful drumming featured on the album).
Much of the album is close in sound to artists like Neil Young, Bonnie Prince Billy and The Low Anthem. In places it also sounds not dissimilar to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds if they had been reared in the American mid-West, purely on a diet of stripped down bluegrass and country.
Bugs opens the album and is in possession of a soaring, airborne chorus. It is followed up by the gloriously ramshackle Ghost Head and the stomping Alamar, which features clattering instrumentation and intense fiddle playing reminiscent of late period A Silver Mt. Zion. Black Dress showcases their mastery of striking tempo changes, as does Ourselves which arrives full of stark, clashing percussion. For a brief moment it suggests a band on the brink of collapsing in on itself before the situation is salvaged, and the song successfully reconstructed.
Many of the tracks follow a similar template, opening with an isolated guitar or banjo line that is subsequently amplified and expanded into something much more voluminous. Look At The Sun is one such track that undergoes this transition, culminating in a procession-like march. On this track frontman Greg Jamie delivers his earnest vocals in a style not far away from the gloomy baritone of Paul Banks from Interpol.
The remainder of the album is filled with more in the way of off-kilter, jagged Americana that has been informed by a post-punk sensibility. The Lake Departed closes affairs, cracked vocals being projected over an arid, skeletal backdrop, sounding at times like the much-missed Sparklehorse.
It would not be impossible for Outside to inspire a mid-career blossoming in popularity akin to that recently experienced by fellow Americans The National. Equally, the success of bands such as The Low Anthem seem to indicate a new found appetite for this music. For now however, O’Death should simply draw personal satisfaction from Outside, an album that moves on their sound and represents a small triumph over personal adversity.