Broken Hymns Limbs and Skin
Label: Kemado Records
If the great bluegrass artists of the early twentieth century started a band in hell it would sound like o’death. With a niche all their own, o’death’s third full-length Broken Hymns Limbs and Skin is a breakneck gothic country jamboree so demented it makes the dueling banjos from Deliverance sound inviting. The songs are filled with sin, foreboding landscapes and broken bodies. The shrieking violin and the dredging bass are a perfect complement to the hiccup-styled throat singing while the twanging banjo would give any child nightmares. There is so much to listen to, it would be easy to miss how full and commanding the drums are on this album; but charging with all-out sprints and lumbering with heavy restraint, the cavernous boom of the bass drum is the true dictator of these 14 tracks.
The album’s first track “Lowtide” begins almost as a warning to an incautious listener. Broken Hymns only gets more unsettling with the second track “Fire on Peshtijo” which rattles like a skeletal square-dancing call, followed by “Legs to Sin” and “Mountain Shifts” which exhibit o’death’s irreverence for tempo and time signature. The songs take off, waltz, grind to a halt, and then are off again, showing unapologetic seams like Frankenstein’s monster. The album continues on like this; every song bearing a distinct sound and personality. Whether it’s the bright excitement of “A Light That Does Not Dim,” the Son House wail of “On an Aching Sea,” or the childlike recital-delicacy of “Leinger,” Broken Hymns Limbs and Skin maintains both a cohesiveness and a variety that develops a distinct sound without repeating itself.
Broken Hymns captures the excitement of an o’death performance and comfortably moves the spotlight from musician to musician so that by the end, o’death’s full range has come out. It is by no means an album for everyone. In fact, if you blast this in traffic the people around you will suspect there’s a body bound and gagged in your trunk. But for arrangement, talent and execution, o’death is a welcome reminder that there are still frontiers left to pioneer in music. Broken Hymns may be steeped in a hedonistic wasteland full of vagrants, mourners and lunatics, but o’death have found a way to turn this swampy landscape into a breath of fresh air.
by Brian Loeper