Ehson Rad has lived in New Mexico, Texas, Michigan, and now Milwaukee. That mileage, and plenty more, permeates American Times, the new EP from Rad and his pitch-black southern gothic outfit Devil Met Contention. Full of glowering, manic-eyed tales of fire and brimstone and sin and redemption, it’s a record that threatens as much as it invites, and one that represents a bold stylistic shift for a promising, still-young band.
Indeed, calling the five-song American Times new is a bit misleading: one track (“Silver Dagger”) is a traditional folk ballad, and three others (“Arclight Worship,” “Blood Boil Slow,” and “Snakeskin Blues) are reworked originals from Devil Met Contention’s 2012 self-titled debut. The differences between old and new couldn’t be starker. The 2012 version of the band wasn’t really a band at all, but simply a moniker for Rad’s minimal, moody, slow-burn acoustic dirges. Fast-forward three years and an appropriately doom-laden band is now backing the singer-songwriter: bassist Max Nemer, guitarist David Schuyler, and drummer Nez. Their work on the jagged “Arclight Worship” and the Frank Black-esque “Snakeskin Blues” reinvent Devil Met Contention as a barking-mad bar band, grinning gleefully as one half of the crowd calls for one more song, and the other calls for the group’s blood.
But the biggest makeover for 2015 is Rad’s voice. What was once soft and hushed is now gravely, shouted, and theatrical. In an interview with WUWM, the singer claims he’s finally singing “like himself,” perhaps indicting himself for affecting a too-bluesy drawl on his 2012 album. Rad’s new voice, although clearly indebted to roughshod singers like Nick Cave and Tom Waits, suits the band well, even if it takes some getting used to it. It’s over-the-top (and honest) in a way few vocals. Stick around for when Rad turns down the heat on the lovely “Silver Dagger” and the languorous title track, however, and it becomes clear that Devil Met Contention’s American Times is an album worthy of a soul-staking deal with you-know-who. Listen to it now, only at Milwaukee Record.
Devil Met Contention celebrates the release of American Times Thursday, February 26 at The Hotel Foster. Thriftones and Zach Pietrini And The Broken Bones open.