When news of Death Spells first emerged, the name conjured images of alchemical formulas and ancient rites, concepts rather far removed from the previous work done by both members of the project. Certainly, the realm of death had been visited before by the members involved, but as just that-a visitation. It wasn’t the basis of an entire band name. When Frank Iero later expressed that the name was derived from episodes experienced by his wife’s grandmother, and by extension could be construed as influencing the rest of the family, it added a rather more personal touch. It remained to be seem if the music would follow in kind.
As demos were released, the anticipation grew. The comparisons continued, but it became clear that the sound exhibited by this new project was something out of the ordinary. Detractors spoke about the songs as ‘just noise’ and complained of a lack in coherent melodies. Enthusiasts exclaimed that while one could point out qualities that were suggestive of a handful of musical influences (NIN, Ministry, and Enzyme X among them), the sound was still excitingly unique. Until recently, that is where things stood, and Death Spells seemed poised on a precipice.
On a personal level, I had begun referring to the music as possibly “The Soundtrack of Enough”. After years of waiting for something to catch my interest again musically, the demo encounters grabbed me, and they never let go. I lost a lot of sleep that week, staying up to hear the next clip, and I wasn’t alone. Still, I was seeking music that wasn’t just a collection of prosaic words meant to woo or wound, and tonality that wasn’t exclusively about the next big riff. It’s become increasingly difficult to write lyrics that deal with depression and the consequences, without sounding trite. Yet, Death Spells has achieved it. Many of the lyrics have not been revealed, but the parts that have bled through have made an unrepentant blow to the guts of the listeners-and they want more.
Perhaps the true test though, is the stage performance. For that, Death Spells offers a bare bones collection of two men, a few small pieces of equipment easily operated on two table tops, and a screen that shows a successive stream of clips from horror films. It’s an unlikely mix, and many that come with the hopes of viewing Frank Iero and James Dewees up close and personal, would seem to be doomed to disappointment. For once the set-up is complete, sound check complete, and the screen is rolling clips, the visual of the famous pairing disappears.
It’s when Death Spells experience begins.
The men become mere mechanisms to convey the sound, just devices, much like the laptop, wires, and screen. The images on the screen may initially come across as disjointed, but they provide a form of hypnosis that a more cohesive display would intrude upon, the viewer not compelled to focus on a set story line by what has been chosen for the stream. The audible lyrics have a chance to take precedence, and the pulse of sound beneath those fills in the rest. There is a dichotomy to be found in the set. With the eyes open, it’s easy to feel a part of the masses, enjoying the more traditional concert element of joint sensation. When the listener closes their eyes, however, the possibility of becoming immersed in something distinctly more personal, isn’t far away. The hum of the crowd, not loud to begin with, is a balm for the veins, if incrementally. The music scratches away at that with raw abandon, alternating it with soothing influences of its own, and you understand that a comfortable space isn’t where you’re meant to linger. For it’s just as you begin to feel sedated, that you’ll be ripped back to reality, and you’ll leave wanting more.
So while Death Spells may not be for everyone, if you’re wanting to fully ingest the meat of what sound has to offer, this bare bones band may very well be for you.