It’s fitting that the third album from punk/folk/Americana five-some O’Death is titled Outside—after all, that’s where all the the fires, floods, windstorms and burials that appear time and again through the album take place. While O’Death may have retreated a bit from the genuine madness that fueled their 2008 high water mark Broken Hymns, Limbs and Sins—aided, no doubt, by health ailments (osteosarcoma and subsequent shoulder replacement) that have befallen drummer David Rogers-Berry over the past three years – the band still kick up a sinister racket, calling on influences from Sixteen Horsepower, Blitzen Trapper, Tom Waits and Varnaline.
So yeah, Outside conjures a world where faithful wives are buried (“Alamar”)... or not, when the ground is frozen solid (“The Lake Departed”). Death bides its time, knowing it will win (“Black Dress”); and windstorms reveal “pools of mess where flesh is made” (“Howling Through”). It’s as if all the old-time characters who normally suffer job-like fates and grisly deaths at the hands of Colin Meloy and the Decemberists migrated to front man Greg Jamie’s pen instead. (Though, if nothing else, the band has internalized the tune popularized by Ralph Stanley that gave them their name.)
It works on Outside because the band—and the rhythm section of Rogers-Berry and bassist Jesse Newman, especially—have mastered atmosphere. Sure, anyone can sound sinister, but these guys conjure weather in a way that has few, if any peers, and gives the songs a “you-are-there” immediacy. The trudging beat of “Alamar” is the dead of winter in the middle of nowhere; “Howling Through” is a disorienting hurricane and “Pushing Out” is an abandoned sea town lashed by autumnal storms (plus, for good measure, they throw in the demented Gothic summer carnival of “The Lake Departed”).
The one knock on Outside is that the incessant death and destruction can take a toll on the listener, especially when the songs lack the wild energy that made Broken Hymns so memorable. Still, most bands working the same sound would kill for O’Death’s knack for vibe, and hell, there’s still plenty more of the outside world for them to explore.