Dead Soul Tribe continues to put out albums on a yearly basis ever since their A Murder of Crows masterwork came out in 2003. With The January Tree, in my opinion, Devon Graves not only released his best work, but he also proved himself as an exceptional poet with excellent ability in songwriting and production. Together with drummer Adel Moustafa, they wrote and recorded one of the finest releases of the year. So after a year, The Dead Word comes out, marking the release of the band’s fourth album. And needless to say, it carries Graves’ unique sound all over it.
As Devon Graves himself stated, The Dead Word is the fastest album recording he has achieved in his career. Written, arranged, recorded and mixed in only one month, perhaps in order to meet contractual obligations that say one album every year, this is perhaps Graves’ most solo work to date, excluding the eponymous debut album. While still solid and in no way disappointing, from a musical standpoint, The Dead Word seems a bit rushed, often ending up like a sequel to the band’s previous album. The opening song, kicking in after the atmospheric intro “Prelude: Time and Pressure”, is almost identical in structure and dynamics to the first track of The January Tree, “Spiders and Flies”. Its slow yet effective start takes on a good drum and bass rhythmic support where Devon sings in his expressive whispered tone, before the song explodes into a catchy vocal melody eerily similar to the aforementioned track. Secret Tool riffs and remarkable drum fills establish the classic Dead Soul Tribe sound as Devon shifts to a more aggressive vocal style (now that’s something new compared to his other albums) and finishes the tune with a quite angry tone.
Strangely, most things you hear on The Dead Word sound like you’ve heard them before, and they seem to be reproduced with little touches of variation. Furthermore, with the exception of a few tunes, most of these songs are bass and drum-rich with restrained inclusion of Devon’s flute and piano playing, as well as rhythm and lead guitar. I am inclined to believe Devon actually plays all instruments on this album, except drums, and his main focus is obviously the bass. Adel Moustafa often plays his amazing drums in impressive harmony with Devon’s bass lines, adding in some intricate fills along the way. Apart from the complex piece “Waiting in Line”, which is the first song they recorded together, the album is minimalistic and less ornate . This song has a great groove, shimmering cymbal taps, flute sounds, and a relatively more challenging chorus. Though not a revolutionary cut, overall it’s on par with the best stuff on The January Tree. According to the information on their website, this track took a while to complete in the studio. I’ve been wondering if that’s why they decided to go for a simpler and less busy style on most of the other songs. The multiple vocal harmonies-laden and epic tracks like “A Fistful of Bended Nails” and “The Long Ride Home”, the only piece co-written by drummer Adel Moustafa, feature a great deal of rhythm guitars that increase the tension and intensity of the songs, utilising ethnic percussion, subtle flute, piano and bass sections, while “To My Beloved…” and “Don’t You Ever Hurt?” are heavily bass-filled cuts delivered through the dichotomy of heavy and soft instrumental passages. That said, “Don’t You Ever Hurt?” has a great mystical vibe to it with an upbeat melody and overdubbed vocal lines by Devon. The interesting message of the song is delivered through spoken lyrics somewhere in the middle. It’s just both of these songs don’t possess the melodic and harmonic quality we’ve come to expect from Dead Soul Tribe. They are totally cool in their own way, but to think how much better they would sound with piano, flute, bells, amd staggering harmonies is a bit confusing.
The centrepieces of the album, in my opinion, are the acoustic ballad “Some Sane Advice” and its counterpart and the relatively heavier “Let the Hammer Fall”. The former song is a continuous shift between lush acoustics and multi-textured choruses, with sirens wailing non-stop towards the end, conjuring up visions of half a dozen police cars arriving at a murder scene by the shores of an isolated lake. Slowly, the song fades out, but the sirens do not. They are still audible on the following piece where keys and guitars are blended and a heavier musical experiment is executed. As with every DST release, the album’s most experimental song is the electronic “My Dying Wish”, a song punctuated by weird tuba sounds, more ethnic percussion, and highly processed electronic soundscapes. The Dead Word is going to hit any new fan. It is amazing on its own merits, but for freaks like myself, it may fall a bit short of its mark. Unless you have high expectations though, you will be blown away when you hear Devon Graves’ new output.