DEAD may have “the collective maturity of a 12-year-old”, as the Melbourne two-piece joked in a recent interview, but musically, this second installment from a planned trilogy of albums (in four parts) elevates them to a new level of songwriting sophistication.
It’s satisfying to see the band not only equal but eclipse their many sources of inspiration—the Melvins, GodHeadSilo, and Feedtime to name a few—in terms of conceptual execution, technical skill, and listenability.
BJ’s contribution illuminates the core of DEAD while adding a whole other textural dimension
There is not an ounce of fat on the bones of each tightly wound track: even the bovine roar of Jace’s bass, mids crunching like ominous steps up a gravel driveway, belly-deep growl of slackened bottom strings, can overwhelm these sinewy and complex structures.
Fender snarl locks into Jem’s rhythmic constructions like precision-tooled machinery, yet there is a looseness in the control that speaks of telepathy between the two musicians.
Jem is the kind of drummer who never plays two notes when one will suffice. His feel and time is spot on, yet the music of DEAD swings, and swings hard, on the same off-kilter meters that make Dale Crover or Tim Alexander so much fun to listen to.
Theses compositions are a step up dynamically than anything so far in the band’s ever-deepening catalog. Drums hit with muscle-truck force, yet the pair knows when to pare things back to a whisper, tension stretched wire-taut across the bars.
Everything Jem does is in service of the song, and the way he builds into explosive, neck-snapping climaxes leaves the hair standing up on the back of your arms.
The interplay between he and Jace generates palpably weird electricity
The interplay between he and Jace generates palpably weird electricity, yet this surreal, almost nightmarish vibration is in no small part due to the creative manipulations of sound artist and keyboardist BJ Morriszonkle.
You might expect that shoehorning a third member into a two-piece band would completely change the character of the music, but BJ’s contribution illuminates the core of DEAD while adding a whole other textural dimension for the attentive listener to appreciate.
Some have noted a cinematic quality in Untitle. Jace has suggested the scores of Ennio Morricone fed into the creation of this new material. While that element is apparent in the spacious arrangement of songs such as Grizzly, Masonry, and Line ‘Em Up, others evoke a B-horror aesthetic that BJ Morriszonkle brings out in his jumble of pedals, percussion, and keyboards.
The Kid Was All Wrong (Vol.I, II, and III) and Line ‘Em Up, to my mind anyway, suggest the absurdly awesome soundtracks to Jackson gorefests Braindead and Bad Taste.
The broken-toy tinkles and chimes, blurry whoops and gurgles, and creepily pitched dissonance add a vibrancy to the whole experience: it’s discomforting and strange and a lot of fun.
Without suggesting that Untitle is in any way ironic—the musicians themselves are known for their self-deprecating sense of humor, but they take their music very seriously—you can’t help but note a sarcastic edge in the coda of Line ‘Em Up.
The half-sung, half-chanted chorus sounds like slowed-down, very drunk Aussie pub-rock anthem being stuffed back into the AM radio it slithered out of, before the song swirls unexpectedly into a strangely beautiful choral harmony at the end. Whether this is tribute or mockery is anyone’s guess; maybe it’s a little of both.
Grizzly and Masonry alone should persuade the most careful spender to crack the purse open
The vocal outro lasts less than half a minute, but it’s moments like these on Untitle that demonstrate a willingness to leave comfort zones behind and try something new.
To my mind, Untitle sees DEAD cast off from the docks of doom and into much more abstract and exciting waters. Yes, there are broad swamps of sludge riffs and pile-driving repetition to traversed for valve-worshipping mushroom-munchers—see Turning Screws—but it’s when the band bust out on a free-jazz figure on In The Car, replete with cape-flappin’ ’70s Hammond from BJ Morriszonkle, that sees this band at their imaginative best.
This is an excellent album. Grizzly and Masonry alone should persuade the most careful spender to crack the purse open for a copy on vinyl, CD, or download, but there is nothing to skip though here.
[Note: Song in video below is from the album “Captains of Industry”.]
DEAD has arrived, and if awarding some arbitrary amount of stars out of 10 meant anything to anyone objectively or subjectively, I’d have no problem at all giving this, at the very least, an 11.5.
The L.A. sessions with former Big Business-man Toshi Kasai and former Melvins/current Hepa-titus bassist Kevin Rutmanis are not far away from release, but for now, Untitle is the album lovers of the weird and heavy need.