by Allanah Maarteen
It’s difficult to know how to consider a record of cover songs. Granted, Meet Your Death’s eponymous first release dips into music so obscure and varied that most wouldn’t recognize the songs unless they had an extensive musical knowledge. And granted, this method of repurposing generally unrecognizable music works well in live performance for developing a sound and presence. But there’s something a bit confusing about putting it to record. It’s as though you’re hearing something you aren’t supposed to hear – the time before the first record when the musicians meet, bond and learn to play together on mutually loved songs, the time when the combination of improvisational, sweaty, live accidents and deliberate development at rehearsal evolves into a sound. Then comes the moment when everything clicks and individual musicians realize an identity as a band. Sometime after that comes a first record. Or so I’ve seen it go.
But, perhaps because Meet Your Death is comprised of seasoned performers, or perhaps because they have friends at 12XU, it seems we’ve been asked to consider this as a record by a developed band, a culmination of time spent playing and writing music together. However, it seems to me more like a demo record, something to tease us with a hint of the live show. As a demo, it’s exciting. As a first album, it doesn’t take me as deep as I’d like to go, nor as deep as I think Walter Daniels and his band of notorious rock outsiders have the power to take us.
The first track, “Obeah Man,” is a clear example of this. Big, booming, tribal drums suggest an opening of subconscious doors, and, as they open, Daniels and his harmonica arrive with otherworldly wails and yelps to lead us. While I felt that, and Schooley’s well-placed noise reinforced it, on first listen (before knowing the work as a cover) lyrics such as “fire and brimstone coming out of my mouth” or “you know that I can raise the dead” struck me as inauthentic and overused. I was pulled out of the world and left to wonder if there wasn’t something else he could have said, some detail specific to him, something singular that might have stuck me in the mud of this strange place rather than referencing the ubiquitous world of Southern Baptists and Louisiana Voodoo.
I found myself most drawn to Daniels when his vocals disconnected from any melodic structure, as in “Tracking the Dog.” Originally by The Screaming Blue Messiahs, the song relies on a pounding repetitive rhythm that allows Daniels to ramble some strange story about shotguns and dog tracking and visions. On first listen, the track stood out as a raw and gut wrenching portrait of southern trash à la Gibby Haynes. I was excited.
But throughout the record, I found myself drawn in and out by the lyrics, unsure if I could trust this voice, unsure of his grasp on this world. When I recognized the Hank Williams cover, something clicked. Were these all cover songs? I realized the reason I sensed weakness in the fabric of this reality was because it wasn’t his reality. It was a reality woven together from other eras and styles.
And that’s ok. But there are moments in Daniels’ unhinged growls that hint at his own dark paracosm, and those moments, combined with his harmonica and Schooley’s instinctual command of noisy slide guitar, made me believe in Meet Your Death. Their raw, creatural sound spins an ugly, dank world we could all stand to consider a little longer – a world where bad decisions and base instincts play out across dark landscapes. The record left me longing to be led through the deep, swirling filth of my under-mind and carried through to the other side. Because I trust Meet Your Death to guide me. I hope the next record will. In the meantime, I will definitely check out their live show.
Meet Your Death’s next show is this Friday, August 12th at Hotel Vegas with Borzoi, where they will be officially releasing this album.
Allanah Maarteen is a musician, writer and artist who tends to take everything other than herself a little too seriously. You can check out her band Imitari, formerly known as Madd Comrades, on Bandcamp and her drawings on instagram @amjaxx.