Death From Above [CA]
Motion predicates progression.
Death From Above certainly kept moving on their third full-length album, Outrage! Is Now (Last Gang Records/Warner Bros. Records). While gleefully maintaining the car-wreck intensity of their punkified disco rock, the hooks got hookier, the weirdness got weirder, and the wildness got, well, wilder. The mustached merchants of death dance discord—Sebastien Grainger (vocals, drums) and Jesse F. Keeler (bass, keys, synths)—made a collective decision to embrace their own penchant for perpetual motion and cooked up the perfect soundtrack to Armageddon’s dancefloor.
“By your third album, I feel like you should be trying different things, whether subconsciously or consciously,” exclaims Jesse. “You’ve got to stretch out the pizza dough of your idea and see how big you can make it creatively. After 17 years, things change. We both wanted to see how far we could take it as Death From Above. Once we started working on music, it seemed like this was going to be a record where the very idea of what our band is evolved.”
“The myth of what we should be didn’t exist anymore,” Sebastien agrees. “We didn’t say it out loud of course, but it was like, ‘Let’s flex our abilities as much as we can and make some weird shit.’ There was never a moment where we took a conventional path—either writing or recording. There was always some strange spice thrown in. It’s a grim record, but there’s a bounciness to it. We captured an element of fun.”
The lads actually began pondering what became Outrage! Is Now while in the midst of finishing their 2014 record, The Physical World. Marking a sweaty and triumphant return after a near 10-year studio hiatus, their sophomore outing would be met with critical applause from Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, Monster Children, Uncut, Alternative Press, and KERRANG! who awarded it a rare perfect score. It filled a void left in the aftermath of 2004’s disruptively influential You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine as Death From Above scorched the road alongside everyone from Deftones to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Eagles of Death Metal. The Physical World spawned fan favorites such as “Trainwreck 1979,” which generated an impressive 11.4 million Spotify streams to date and “Virgins” another to crack the 5-million mark. As they retreated to Jesse’s farm two hours east of Toronto to write in 2016, the musicians came to terms with adulthood as only two punks can.
“I think the band evolved because we’re evolving as individuals,” says Jesse. “I’ve changed. My life is nothing like it was in 2000. Back then, we lived in an old funeral home. Now, I own an old cemetery. We’re using the same amps though. I’m fucking 40-years-old. I’ve got two kids. I do totally normal dad stuff. I don’t need to let anyone know who I am through my music. I can just make art that I enjoy.”
“The goal of the record was to expand the vocabulary a little bit, not to drastically change,” adds Sebastien. “We stepped out of our comfort zone.”
With a host of demos, Death From Above headed back to Los Angeles to work with producer and engineer Eric Valentine (Queens of the Stone Age, etc.). Making for what Jesse describes as the “fastest recording process,” the vision quickly took shape as they developed an intimate working relationship with Eric. Nothing was off limits or out of bounds as evidenced by the first single “Freeze Me.” It shimmies from a piano melody into a slamming distorted bass and drum groove before Sebastien croons out one of the group’s catchiest chants to date while stretching the limits of his vocal register.
“I’ve been trying to encourage Jesse to write on keyboard more,” he explains. “It’s an element on the first record that I wanted to use as much as we could. He sent me a voice note of the piano part, and we arranged it more or less how you hear it now. It felt like a welcome departure.”
“I recorded it in the living room, and you can hear my wife and kids talking away in the background on the first demo,” Jesse laughs. “Someone’s doing the dishes, and something even falls over!”
On the other end of the spectrum, the title track could be a state-of-the-union for post-millennium malaise wrapped in a robust bass riff, glitchy production, and lines like, “I’m out of rage, maybe it’s my age.”
“There’s an absolute chaos and confusion in the world, and people who would otherwise agree on most things seem to be disagreeing,” sighs Sebastian. “There’s a lot more space between the poles of opinion and views on the world. It seems like a barrier of disgust as we almost dehumanize each other based on a few slight differences of opinion. The title is an observation of this hyper sensitivity, which we’re all a part of. It’s not meant as an accusation; it’s just a statement of the times.”
The jarring bass blast of “Moonlight” gives way to another departure with an unabashedly metal moment of double kick drums as Sebastien relives one of the most horrifying experiences of his life.
“It’s the most personal song on the record,” the vocalist admits. “When we were on tour in Dallas last year, I was jumped by a group of kids and got the shit kicked out of me. It was an extremely intense experience that I couldn’t ignore. Experiencing that kind of violence and fear can’t help but put a perspective on your life. I literally thought I was getting murdered. We even call the middle section, ‘The fight scene’.”
Meanwhile, the swaggering “NVR 4EVR” incorporates the remains of deceased fan James Marshall Matthews Jr., with a vial of his ashes shaking the song into existence. “James was a huge fan of the band, and he died in an accident before he got to see us reunite,” Sebastien explains. “His sister came to a show in Washington D.C. and spread his ashes in our trailer so he could come on tour with us. She gave me this vial of his remains. It was a really moving and intense exchange for the both of us. I brought that vial on all of the tours we did and up to the farm. When we were doing percussion overdubs for “NVR 4EVR,” I had to use them. The track starts with the riff and that shaker is actually his earthly remains. It’s a very special song to us and his family.”
Ultimately, Outrage! Is Now confidently kicks off a new chapter for Death From Above.
“I hope fans see the progression,” Jesse leaves off. “This record is very much the result of the environment and experiences of the last five years. I can hear everything we’ve been through. This weird resolve builds up as you keep facing different circumstances. If we didn’t have struggle, life would be really fucking boring. Now that it’s all done, I enjoy it.”
“It’s meant to be felt and stimulate you on an emotional level,” concludes Sebastien. “We tried to make something that excites and surprises us. My journey is that of enlightenment all the time and seeking some form of truth. There’s enough fiction in the world. We’re not going to tell you what to believe. That’s up to you.”