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THELEMA REVIEWS

Tom Semioli (AMG)

On Thelema, the Murder City Devils render their distinctive brand of hardcore garage punk with confidence and coherence. The ensemble playing is tight and economic as bassist Derek Fudesco and the menacing double-guitar brigade of Nate Manny and Dan Gallucci crank out unison rhythms that are bridged by Lesie Hardy's sustained keyboard textures and drummer Coady Willis' clever use of dynamics. "Bear Away" and "Bride of the Elephant Man" are the two most melodic offerings, as each instrumentalist contributes pop hooks that are infectious and harmonically intriguing. Vocalist Spencer Moody's constant screaming wears thin in a hurry, but his attempt to actually sing on the verses of "364 Days," a jangly mid-tempo folk-rock composition that yearns for the blessing of St. Nicholas with weeping violins and an old-world accordion accompaniment, is the band's finest moment. Despite the album's short running time, the Murder City Devils cover a lot of ground on this outing.

Matt Schild (Aversion)

"I never heard a sad song that I didn’t like," howls the Murder City Devils’ singer Spencer Moody on this EP’s opening tracks. That, friends, is the real essence of the Devils.

Forget whatever you’ve heard about the Devils’ love of nasty rock, taste for liquor and snearing countenance; while all those are traditional elements in the Devils’ music – and remain in high profile on Thelema – none of them are the keystone to the band’s being as many have suggested over the years. Sure, they’re pretty obvious in the Devils’ rocked-up tunes, but really, are they anything but symptoms and coping mechanisms?

Thelema proves they’re not. While the Devils maintain every bit of the hearty rock’n’roll of their previous years that checks everything from The Stooges to junk rock to ominous dark rock, the band’s perfected the blend of its influences on this record to show that there’s a lot of rain that falls in Murder City. Tales of outright heartache flesh out the band’s most soulful numbers, and, while they’re a bit more restrained than previous releases, they’ve still got the Devils’ trademark roughshod rock’n’roll on which to lean. Whether the band comes forth with a sinister pairing of guitars and funeral-parlor organs to back up a tale of desolate honesty and the heartbreak it brings ("That’s What You Get,") or weaves the band’s booze-addled loneliness into a Christmas tale ("364 Days"), the sound of the Devils is the sounds of hearts breaking, or desperately being put back together with vice as their glue. It’s an acrid form of escapism, but few can do it as well as the Devils do on this EP.

Everything isn’t suffering and isolation, however, as Thelema has its share of Murder City Devils gloom and doom. The band weaves a foreboding tale of death ships and sacrifices, with all the token garage-punk nods thrown in along with it ("Bear Away") and lets a heavy back beat carry curtains of slow-picked guitar into a world creepy enough to match vague lyrics about some dark ritual ("Midnight Service at the Mütter Museum"). There’s enough of the band’s hard-boiled side on this EP to make anyone happy.

Loneliness is a pretty dark place. The Devils know this, and for the first time, are able to differentiate the difference between darkness and evil. While there are still overtones of dread on this record, the elemental powers of the dark have finally been tamed by the band’s despair.

Max Sidman (Synthesis)

It’s said that change is life’s only constant, and though The Murder City Devils definitely have their own recognizable tone, they too are subject to nature’s only constant. In the case of the Devils, the change is more of an evolution, an album-by-album process of growth that finds this Northwestern six-piece honing songwriting skills and gaining a sense for grander production. From the group’s self-titled release through the most recent, In Name and Blood, it is now apparent this oddly named six-song EP shows evolution is evident.

The Murder City Devils still live up to their dark, nitro-charged reputations — songs like "That’s What you Get" and "Bear Away," the EP’s first two tracks, serve as a reminder of the kind of guttural, visceral, almost gothic punk rock the Devils became known for. But as Thelema plays the music gets deeper. The mood turns decidedly somber for "Midnight Service at the Mütter Museum," a power ballad-y number rich with resonant Farfisa keyboard licks and languishing, drawn out guitar cries. "Bride of the Elephant Man" carries a similar somber tone, while "One Vision of May" is marked by a driving guitar hook and machinegun-like play between the snare drum and tom.

Through all the screaming vocals, thunderous percussion and art-punk-inspired riffs there is a certain grandiosity; a dirty, haughty attitude that is exemplified in the song "364 Days." This is an intricately constructed number — including orchestral accompaniment — which, despite its high class posturing, smacks of The Murder City Devils’ status as gutter punk royalty.


Margaret Schwartz (Pop Matters)


There's no accounting for taste. So why do people write and read reviews? One answer may be an implicit belief in the commonality of human experience: if we can agree (or at best agree to disagree) about taste, then there must be something binding us all together. Arguments about the so-called canon of course call in to question not only a tradition, therefore, but also certain received notions about what constitutes humanity.

As a producer and consumer of such judgements, I try my best to arbitrate not from a universal standard (thumbs up, thumbs down) but from the standards set up by the work itself. In this case, The Murder City Devils are serving up a particular post-punk neo-gothic fare -- whether or not this particular strategy suits my own personal tastes, I have to consider first whether these Devils are up to the task they've set themselves.

Said task isn't easy, not least of all because it's a rather rigid genre they're working in. I've never seen The Murder City Devils, but when I imagine them, I see a lot of black leather and velvet and lacy sleeves. Their abrasiveness could more accurately be described as salubriousness -- a stumbling drunk kind of rancor, heavily laced with self-loathing. You know the type, a sort of combination Lizard King / Baudelaire, all dark eyeliner and heavy jewlery. The album cover features a nineteenth century ceramic hand, marked like a phrenological head with the locations of the "life line" and the "heart line". Such charming imagery evokes a time when science and soothsaying had not entirely parted ways. Just as Jim Morrison used Native American imagery and ritual to color his music with a kind of intuitive, pre-cultural authenticity, the MCDs seem to be using this outdated augery to suggest a kind of murky spirituality. So what is their augury? Whose entrails are they reading?

I think the answer here would have to be Nick Cave -- a comparison both facile and accurate. The presskit's reassures me that such influences have "crumbled away" leaving the MCDs with a sharply honed "vitality and style all their own". Well, in the spirit of judging things by their own standards, I'd have to say that they protest too much -- as a famous dead white guy once said.

In other words, I don't find anything on this album that would surprise or shock the expectations of even the most committed neo-gothic Lizard Prince. There's rage aplenty, but nothing on this, the six-piece's fourth recording, sounds like full-on assault. On the other hand, even when vocalist Spencer Moody (um, is that a stage name?) croons, it's more like a cigarette stained growl. The beats are propulsive, heavy on the downbeat, and the two guitars rip into each other with all the delicacy of a chainsaw "Turkey in the Straw". With such a hidebound image, any of the newfound "depth" and "melody" advertised in the presskit is bound to be cosmetic at best. If you go for that stuff, you won't mind another monolithic helping. The rest of us may prefer more subtle fare.

Thelema is less an album than an EP, with only six short cuts. However, if the MCDs are in fact trying to wean themselves off the withered teat of their aging aesthetic, only one track shows any promise. "364 Days" is a rolicking, dark Christmas carol, an "open letter to Saint Nicolas". With its weepy violin, waltz time, and gut-wrenching keening, it is the perfect carol for all you Scrooges out there. Moody sets the scene, with the kids all asleep, waiting for St. Nick -- and "while they wait we can drink." The chorus exhorts the Jolly Old Elf to "take off your boots / pour a drink / try not to cry / try not to think" -- after lamenting the 364 days spent all alone -- "and a thousand more tears". The feel is both doo-wop and Moulin Rouge, all tawdry waltz and descending bassline, with a refreshingly acoustic guitar line providing the swing. As the choruses build, Moody's wail gets rougher, his diction sloppier.

If there was ever a man to cry into the eggnog, it's Moody. Trouble is, if you do that every year, pretty soon no one invites you anymore.


DJ Courtney (Get Underground)

Seeing as how the Murder City Devils are calling it quits after their Fall tour, this EP will probably be the last offering from this rock'n Seattle band. Sounding like they belonged alongside the Stooges and MC5, they provided a welcome dose of danceable, dark, garage rock to combat the whininess, which has come to dominate indie music.

Thelema features six tracks. The final one "364 Days," was previously released on a Christmas bonus single. The other five are bran-spank'n-new and push the limits of their Iggy-esque songwriting with more prominent organ and the introduction of keyboards and piano. What results is a more "experimental" mix which some have accredited to their close association with former underground superstars At the Drive-In. Lyrically, the songs feature trademark MCD imagery, such as ships and the midnight hour, as well as cryptically sinister lines like "You'll always be a rube at the window

Staring like an asshole with a quarter in your fist."

However, unlike previous MCD's releases I was not instantly smitten with this EP. Thelema illustrates the substantial musical growth of the band, but yet I find myself longing for the raw, music to shake your hips to, rock 'n roll of their earlier days.

One other thing to mention…if you stick the CD into your computer you can view lyrics as well as the video for "Idle Hands" from In Name and Blood.


Alex Steininger (In Music We Trust)


The Murder City Devils are currently on their last tour, calling it quits, with members moving on to new projects. Their last release, the Thelema EP is a collection of haunting, ripping guitar-driven rock 'n' roll, perfect for Halloween, or any dark, chilly nights where you don't know what is around the corner, nor do you care. You just go ahead full throttle, as does the Murder City Devils, rattling things up with pure intensity. These six songs are bloody, loud, and abrasive. And they don't care if they cut you and make you sting; that's what they're out to do. I'll give this an A.


Jeremy (Deep Fry Bonanza)

I can never seem to resist picking up 10" records when I see them in my local record store, so when I saw this beauty, I just had to pick it up. The slab of orange vinyl within contains six songs from this powerful Seatlle, WA six piece, 5 never released and the sixth from the previously released XMAS bonus single. I had never heard The Murder City Devils on record, but was excited for the chance after catching them open for Dillinger Four at the Globe East in Milwaukee. I was not disappointed.

The first track, 'That's What You Get' starts things off appropriately. Noisy, heavy, organ-soaked music drives the powerful, gruff vocals. The organ on this EP adds a pleasant creepiness, much stronger in both the mix and song structure than in previous Murder City Devils releases, but never in the way. Dann Gallucci's unique noodling guitar style adds to the gloomy chaos, most notably on 'Bride of the Elephant Man'. Somehow, this band manages to consistently convey more emotion than any emo band I've ever heard. You can really sense the Murder City Devils feel their music.

The lyrics are a highlight too. Most of the lyrics here have a gothic, storytelling slant that gives this release an unusual feel. 'That's What You Get' is a song about a twisted relationship that most of us can relate to:

'And I know that you know that I will always love you
But I'm going back to falling out of chairs and puking on lampposts…
I guess that's why she's leaving and she's not waiting for me
To straighten up.
You fall in love
You speak too soon
You ruin everything
That's why she's the one that's leaving and she's leaving tonight'

'364 Days' closes out the album with what might be the best song on 'Thelema'. It's an acoustic sounding Christmas song about how tough it must be for good old Saint Nicholas on the 364 days a year that aren't December 25th. It paints a bleak picture of a heavy whiskey drinker fighting off tears, trying to forget how lonely he has become. Featuring violin and cello, I think this is the only band that could perform this song with enough sincerity to not come off as a joke.

'Thelema' has some pretty cool packaging and some great music on the Murder City Devil's final release (they are set to break up at the end of 2001). This release would provide a perfect soundtrack to Halloween this year if you're looking for something heavy in a non-typical way. I think you could do a lot worse than this release, so I recommend picking it up.


Dennis Scanland (Music Emissions.com)


Murder City Devils follow up their 2000 release In Name and Blood with this stupidly great EP. Thelema even blows away In Name & Blood in all its glory. There are only 5 songs (and one video for “Devils’ Workshop) on here and they are the best things that Spencer Moody and his crew of murder marauders have ever put out. Spencer is at his height with his growly vocals and the song content is very well done. Take for instance the story of Saint Nicholas’ seclusion for the “364 days” he is spent up at the North Pole. “Bride of the Elephant Man” actually brings out a bit of the Devils’ melodic leanings. The spooky keyboards Leslie provides is enough to bring the macabre alive and increase the spook factor that these cats are striving for. The Murder City Devils are living proof that garage rock is alive and well.


Jason (Indie Workshop)


I bought this cd expecting it to be the same as the last, and to not be too impressed with it. With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised when I listened to this a couple times. This is still very much the same band, but they have progressed quite a bit. Overall, I would say Thelema is a little darker and a little less “rockin” than previous albums- a very natural progression for a band like the Murder City Devils. The guitars are more layered, with some effects, and there are some different keyboard/synth sounds that stray from the usual Farfisa organ. In “Midnight service at the Mutter Museum” and “Bride of the Elephant Man” it almost sounds like tour-mates At the Drive-in rubbed off on these guys a bit. The especially dreary “364 Days”, which was originally released on a limited 7”, even incorporates a string section. Through all this Spencer Moody’s vocals, which are a trademark of the MCD, remain the same as always. Lyrically, some of the “rock and roll” has been dropped as well and replaced with darker, vague themes that fit the music perfectly. There have been rumors about this band breaking up that I haven’t been able to confirm, (ed. ohhh, their true; quits after the tour) but if they are true, they are going out on a good note.


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