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Album Review: Mystery Blood is “High on Death”

Mystery+Blood+plays+a+show+at+Kirby%27s+Beer+Store.+
Mystery Blood plays a show at Kirby's Beer Store.

Mystery Blood plays a show at Kirby's Beer Store.

Matt Cooper

Matt Cooper

Mystery Blood plays a show at Kirby's Beer Store.

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Late June, under the misty blue stage lights at Kirby’s Beer Store, three former Wichita State students — cumulatively known as Mystery Blood — played a somber, dissonant, original brand of doom punk to a full house of regulars.

The band, composed of Matthew Clagg (Drums/lead vocals), Helen Cruz (Bass/vocals) and Mason Monigold (Guitar), all hold degrees from Wichita State. Standing in the back of Kirby’s watching their set, one might have noticed a neat looking fellow sporting black overalls and nothing else save for a mustachio and glasses. Such is with Kirby’s attendants: real angel-headed listeners filled with musically amenable ears.

In any case, Mystery Blood has released one album worthy of review. The title in concern is their effort named, High on Death. Recorded in Iowa City’s Flat Black Studios, the record is curious for three important reasons.

Mystery Blood’s “High On Death” Album Cover.

First, it was recorded in a re-purposed barn wired for sound outside Iowa City, a bit of a cool factoid in and of itself.

Second, most of the vocals on the recordings come from drummer Matt Clagg. Drummers that can sing and do it with an intensity that matches that of their instrument are few and far between. Clagg achieves this throughout “High on Death.” For example, on the opening track Belong,” Clagg uses an appropriately up and down vocal intensity to match the breakdowns and verses in the song. All of this is while staying in touch rhythmically and maintaining a violent percussion presence.

Matt Clagg of Mystery Blood sings and plays the drums at a show at Kirby’s Beer Store June 27.

This matches with what Clagg said of his drumming in a short interview with The Sunflower. He described a synchronous flow one must have with the different elements of a song if one is to drum and sing in a punk rock style.

“The vocals and drumming inform each other in subtle ways,” he said. “As my voice is affected by the movement and tensions of my body, the rhythm and style of my drumming is affected by the lyrical elements of the vocals.”

Spot on here.

Third, the music is diverse and dark. Blending their MFA experience with music and netting a kind of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds meets the Misfits-esque sound that still managed to come out original was accomplished in the recording process. Let me explain a bit further. A good example of this comes in the title track “I am the Sun”, which features harrowing riffs and vocals with a twist. Featured on the track are multiple saxophone solos by Pete Balestrieri Iowa. The woodwind add-in to what this reviewer would call an otherwise already solid record, makes it truly quality.

Helen Cruz plays bass and provides backing vocals for Mystery Blood at a show at Kirby’s Beer Store June 27.

Conclusion:

While slightly derivative of contemporary doom-punk records, “High on Death” is a credit to the quality of music currently being produced by Wichita punk bands. That term, quality, is important because of the downright listenability of Mystery Blood’s efforts. Claggs vocals combined with the originality of a tracks like “I am the Sun” and “Lie” make “High on Death” work.

Listen or decide on a verdict for yourself as well. Mystery Blood’s work can be accessed via their Band Camp at https://mysteryblood.bandcamp.com/.

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