Perhaps no Sub Pop signing in recent years has undergone a diamond-in-the-rough maturation process as memorable and rewarding as Seattle's Murder City Devils. Over the course of three long-players, the six-piece (originally a quintet) indulged amped-up Stones-styled R&B, classic mid-'70s proto-punk, metallic-fringed biker rock and full-blown horror-shockadelica -- frequently, all at once. In short, a band that can be all things to all people (at least people who care about their underground sounds) without coming across as dilettantes or panderers. News of their impending demise, then, seems all the more disconcerting. According to the grapevine, keyboardist Leslie Hardy, having sustained some wrist-related injuries recently, finds it necessary to step down. But apparently her presence will be more than missed since the band has decided to call it quits, too. Her entry into the lineup on last year's monumental In Name and Blood album afforded a crucial new dimension to the group's sound, fuller and almost orchestral, helping the MCD make the transition from scruffy cave-stomp punkers to purveyors of pure rock cinema.
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Go out with a bang, then. Thelema is a six-song EP comprising five new songs plus "364 Days," originally a limited-edition Christmas single. The latter is a startling enough departure for the Devils, a David Lynchian waltz-pop number that finds the normally over-the-top vocalist Spencer Moody part-warbling, part-reciting in a nostalgic gulp while sweetly bowed strings hum sympathetically in the background, subtly echoing the melody of "Yesterday." Other tunes have Moody's viscosity levels filled to capacity; he sings with the abandon of ex-Fluid belter John Robinson (the explosive Motor City-styled "On Vision of May") and the menace of Laughing Hyenas' John Brannon (the sinewy death 'n' doom yarn "Bear Away"). Throughout, the Devils deftly coat their tunes with dynamic tension and atmosphere. "Bear Away" is darkly epic, psychedelic blooze-punk; imagine Blue Öyster Cult playing at Robert Johnson's funeral. And the astonishing "Midnight Service at the Mutter Museum" counterbalances low-end run-through-the-jungle throb and serial killer fretboard slash with eerie gothic organ lines and a stately grand piano motif -- think The Doors scoring a Hitchcock or Kubrick flick -- as Moody deliberately pronounces "mutter" more like "murder," the proverbial ghost roaming restlessly on the highway.
Paint it black, you Devils. May God rest your souls.
Murder City Devils
Bash on Ash in Tempe
Scheduled to perform on Tuesday, October 2, with American Steel. Showtime is 9 p.m.