Murder by Death: Dramatic Rock in Bloomington

Positioned somewhere in a paradox, Bloomington, Indiana‘s Murder by Death is a unique band that has fashioned a deep niche for itself in the vast recesses of the Indianapolis music scene. About an hour south of Indianapolis, Bloomington is the home of Indiana University and a huge population of intellectuals, artists, and musicians. Murder by Death is a product of this environment, and they are part of the pantheon of Indiana indie rockers, a group that includes Indianapolis bands like Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s.

Formed in 2000, Murder by Death consists of Adam Turla on vocals and guitar, Sarah Balliet on cello and keys, Dagan Thogerson on drums and various percussion, and Matt Armstrong on bass. Over the years, the group has fashioned a unique sound that is all their own. Murder by Death sounds desperate yet triumphant, classic yet progressive, tough in image yet soft in spirit. Adam Turla’s baritone growl evokes images of Johnny Cash and blue collar workers down on their luck. Balliet’s cello adds a haunting background strain that is accented by the pounding drums of Thogerson and the thick bass of Armstrong. It’s hard to find anything like this playing at any Indianapolis bar or Indianapolis music venue.

Music video for “Sometimes the Line Walks You” by Indianapolis area band Murder by Death


Murder by Death has released four total studio albums on three different labels. Two of their albums are on New Jersey’s Eyeball Records, one on Murder by Death’s own Tent Show Records, and one on Vagrant Records. Murder by Death’s studio albums are 2002’s Like the Exorcist, but With More Breakdancing, 2003’s Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left of Them?, 2006’s In Bocca Al Lupo, and 2008’s Red of Tooth and Claw.

Music video for “Until Morale Improves, the Beatings Will Continue” by Indianapolis area band Murder by Death


With each new record, the band forges ahead into new territory. Their debut, Like the Exorcist…, features instrumentals, haunting vingettes, and guest vocals from other Indiana artists. In Bocca Al Lupo featured a shift in the band’s sound, with a more rock focused approach and a new, deeper vocal styling on the part of Turla.

Not only does the music evolve with each new incarnation of Murder by Death, but their stories they tell grow as well. Each album is a concept album, or an album centered around one theme or story. In the words of Turla, each album is made personal by “stuff like the sexual tension, the murder, the drinking, and basically any other dirt you find between the lines.”  Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left of Them? is about the Devil’s war on a small Mexican town, and its title is derived from the tagline of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a tribute to Murder by Death’s love of horror movies. In Bocca al Lupo is based around sin and punishment, using Dante’s Inferno as a inspiration. Murder by Death’s newest, the Vagrant Records LP Red of Tooth and Claw, is based on a story of revenge similar to Homer’s Odyssey. Each record is a sweeping epic that involves varied instrumentation, dark themes, and beautiful storytelling.

Music video for “Brother” by Indianapolis area band Murder by Death


Though Murder by Death got its start playing at venues in cities around Indiana, currently they play internationally. The band has taken tours of Europe, playing mostly in Italy, though they’ve also played dates in Greece, Germany, and Switzerland. In Indiana and Indianapolis, Murder by Death has played at Birdy’s Bar & Grill and The Vogue Nightclub, in addition to various venues around Bloomington and North Vernon. Upcoming tour dates are often featured on NUVO Newsweekly‘s website.

For more information about Murder by Death, including tour information, song samples, and press clippings, please visit the band’s homepage.

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