One of the best bands in Chattanooga returns with a brand new EP, and are even better
I started writing for The Pulse in 2013. The Dead Testaments were one of the first bands I covered and they instantly became (and remain) one of my favorite bands anywhere. Then they went silent. Members had other projects to pursue, life happened, and more than once I lamented the fact that they weren’t making more music.
Of course, Dead Testaments was always a pick up band anyway, an assembly of brilliant players from several other bands (Elk Milk, Moonlight Bride, Forest Magic) brought together to get some music out of Abe Houck’s head, but results were so spectacular it seemed a pity they weren’t doing more.
Now it’s 2017 and Dead Testaments is back with an all new EP and, just for a moment, things are right in the world. It appears that over the last four years a band I thought couldn’t get any better got better, at least they’ve broadened an already impressive palette of sonic colors to paint with. Right there in that metaphor is the key to band.
Listening to a Testaments song is like having a picture painted in your head, rich and full of texture sometimes with subtle strokes, other times with broad splashes of paint, but all of it coalescing into a beautiful final image. I don’t want to belabor the point, but there is even poetry in the way they arrange the songs. The level of artistry is astonishing.
There are five songs on the new EP and while many of the familiar hallmarks of the Dead Testaments are there (hints of Leonard Cohen, moody, atmospheric layers, complexity) there are some distinctive new elements as well. A distinctly country western guitar rhythm, banjo and slide guitar have all worked their way in to songs like “Ghosts of the Civil War Trees” and “Go Down Jonas” and the effect is that the Dead Testaments can own and genre or style they care to, making it their own.
“Ghosts of the Civil War Trees” is a personal favorite, thematically reminiscent of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” though it concerns itself with blood of fallen soldiers rather than victims of barbaric racism. Lyrically and musically the song is flawless. Vocally, the tune rather reminds me of Damien Rice, an Irish singer/songwriter of some note.
While a couple of tunes on the EP are clearly extensions of the band into new territory, others, like “Bouncing Heads,” pick up precisely where the band left off with their first release. Intentionally or not, “Bouncing Heads” sounds like a loving tribute to Leonard Cohen, vocally, musically, thematically.
“Good Union Man” shares some common ground with the band Wax Fang, another personal favorite from my home town, and can only be described as sonically lush. In fact, lush is a good term for the arrangements of the band, up to and including the final track, “Redrum.” There is an inherent danger in many bands doing what the Dead Testaments do.
Complex layers of instrumentation can be a crutch, or a band-aid for otherwise weak music, but the trick is that it isn’t an effective band-aid, it just makes a “not very good” song bloated and even worse.
When you operate at the level these musicians do, though, there is no danger of that, that don’t write or perform bad songs and everything they do is done with so deft a touch that even if you don’t care for the music itself (though I do, in spades) you’d still have to acknowledge the skill and artistry of it.
In taste, all things are subjective. Acknowledging that, I’m just going to put it out there that the Dead Testaments in general and their new EP in particular represent some of the very best talent to come out of this area, period. I cannot recommend this new release enough and as soon as it is commercially available I’ll announce it here.