After three years, O’Death‘s return is a triumphant one, both musically and personally. During their tour in support of 2008’s Broken Hymns, Limbs, and Skin, drummer David Rogers-Berry was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma. After treatments and recovery, Rogers-Berry and the rest of the New York-based quintet return to the stage and have now released, Outside, their third and most consistent album of gothic-tinged Americana.
Past O’Death records seem to rely largely on aggressive energy and vocalist Greg Jamie’s high-pitched howl soaring and cracking over rambunctious, loose bluegrass instrumentation. Their dark, pulsing interpretation of folk, bluegrass, and generally unclassifiable Americana song stylings seemed to revel most in their head-rush, full-speed-ahead aesthetic. While that energy certainly hasn’t gone anywhere, Outside shows off a developed sense of atmosphere.
Opening track “Bugs” shows some prominent changes right off the bat: Jamie’s vocals are cooled off a little, the lush choruses sound thicker than most anything the band’s recorded, and things generally seem to have taken a turn for the Sufjan Stevens. “Please believe in me,” Jamie coos over limber, lingering banjo from Gabe Darling. The crunching rhythm at the beginning of “Ghost Head” seems more like familiar O’Death territory, but the slow tempo and group harmonies sound like Rock Plaza Central. The seven-minute track’s dark introduction leads to a bright, shimmering triumph.
“Alamar” has a graveyard shuffle that Man Man would be jealous of, “Ourselves” waltzes about cheerily, and moments of “Look at the Sun” seem to flirt with the Balkan territory of acts like Beirut. Late track “Pushing Out” creaks and moans lyrically, the tragic vocals hovering over sparse, twinkling strings. There’s a newfound fragility to the album, one that gives the musicians a great deal more room to work with. They’re covering fresh territory, so the few hiccups where things seem to stretch too far are to be expected. But this new growth is one that should be interesting to follow come their next album.