Somewhere along the way the unthinkable happened. Somewhere along the way country and folk music became more and more acceptable for punks to like. Take a listen to Lucero or Drag the River for proof of punks enjoying and creating this music. Heck, just look no further than the cover choices for the latest Gimmes record. My theory as to why it didn't happen sooner perhaps is the cartoony image that mainstream country music has today and the Hollywood image of folk music and beatniks. The same could be said for punk music's overtly fashion conscious portrayal in the media. When you get past the goofy TV images and really pick up a Merle Haggard, Woody Guthrie or Neil Young record there is some wonderfully sincere music to be found.
What does any of this have to do with this piece of music? Well, looks like the group of punk-oriented individuals in Killed by the Bull have also discovered a love of roots rock. With their horribly titled EP, The Princess Rides the Bull Into Holy Hell, the band has created an original but extremely perplexing piece of music.
Through the course of the six-song album the band deftly crafts a dark and brooding, revved up country rock-inspired soundscape. Musically they are near perfect at what they do. Even the production doesn't falter too much in terms of sound, but the mixing is the first signs of trouble. The drums and vocals are too high in the mix, and the guitar and bass could really be higher, especially the bass. While the music has a complimentary dulled and warm production, the vocals have a dreaded "bright and punchy" sound and are crystal clear.
The drums being too high in the mix isn't actually that much of a problem because Bill McVeigh's drumming is really a highlight for the album. The vocals are a problem because Justin Fullam's voice for the most part does not suit the style of music. His voice has not so much a whiny but *gulp* sassy quality to it, aside from the occasional scream (which he is okay at sometimes and not others). His delivery is a tad theatrical which works to create an effective feeling of an off-kilter rollercoaster, but more often than not it gives the whole album a bad gothic western feel.
Looking at the album cover of a zombie-ish girl with cuts on her arm I had Hawthorne Heights-ian nightmares. When I listened to "Me Against I" my nightmares became reality. It has painful lines like "I can feel you running through my veins, I can't bleed you out / You're my war, me against I, and who will be the first to die?." At that point I hoped it would be me. The chorus is pretty darn catchy though, too bad anyone with dignity would feel ridiculous singing along.
"Riding Ghost Horses" comes off quite a bit better. It has a great momentum with its galloping drums, and an entertaining twangy guitar solo. Justin even seems to tone down the sass in his voice, but takes his screams a bit too far. While keeping with the dark gothic lyrics, this time they manage to take an anti-war stance. While not the deepest insight is brought, the way they sneak it in is both interesting and unexpected. I picked up on similar sentiments perhaps in "The Matador vs. the Snake Charmer," but mostly they keep to the gothic motifs. One exception to this is "Five Years Later," which unlike the silly "Me Against I" takes a surprisingly mature look at a relationship.
The band must be commended just for trying something half-original, but their execution is flawed. KBTB should leave the ghouls to Tiger Army and weak screams to From First to Last...though I suppose leaving a strong impression is better than leaving no impression at all. I get the feeling the band is worth keeping an eye on because they certainly are creative. If you are into the whole country/folk-punk scene this might be worth checking out for something different.