Reunited bands have a tendency to disappoint. Maybe their hearts aren’t in it the second time around, maybe they’ve changed as artists and individuals, or maybe the expectations of a rabid fanbase are impossible to meet.
Whatever the case, let’s put aside our memories of In Name and Blood, their last studio full-length which came out 14 years ago, and focus on the present. The Seattle-based band reunited years ago, working the occasional festival date and West Coast tours into their schedules, playing the classics but without new material. While they did release an EP in 2009, The White Ghost Has Blood on Its Hands Again is their first big new release.
Where do Murder City Devils stand in 2014? It starts with ripper “I Don’t Wanna Work for Scum Anymore,” a clear continuation of the band at their finest, with a hoarse and anguished Spencer Moody bleeding through his vocal chords over furious garage rock force. It plays off their love of Simpsons quotes (“I would like to see Moe fail”) and rips and pours emotion and vitriol. It’s a fitting introduction to the 8-song release, which balances similar fury with tormented ballads (is that word is really applicable with this band) and haunting, brooding slower tracks.
Others have already lamented the decrease in keyboards on The White Ghost but this should come as no surprise. Among other factors, the departure of Leslie Hardy foreshadowed their break-up in 2001. Hardy did not return in new incarnations and the keyboards, while still prevalent in songs like “”Cruelty Abounds” and “Hey Playboy,” take something of a backseat to the angry rock tones now.
Another noteworthy development is the exploration of slower tempos. Moody’s speak-sing is well suited both to throaty bellows in the ragers, but also to wallowing and soulful moments such as the aforementioned “Hey Playboy.” The band has long used a slow song here and there, but The White Ghost has more of them, giving a more plodding feel overall. There’s that tendency in their discography to have a single song kind of drag, which is effective thematically but susceptible to the “skip button” most of the time and, here, that energy lags around “Old Flame” and “Hey Playboy,” right in the middle, before they kick up the snares again with the corrosive “Not Everybody Gets a Good Time.” “Non-participation” is another winner,” blending that haunting key tone alongside manic, furious vocals and guitar. The best songs here may not be the best the band has written, but they fit comfortably within the bigger picture.
The record as a whole is powerful and genuine—taking that time after the reunion to rekindle their fire on stage instead of in studio has paid off, and The White Ghost is a fitting continuation of a band halted, instead of a rehashing of past endeavors. There is a familiar feel at place that warms the cockles of the heart, but it’s also fresh and new.
7.9 / 10
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