El Toro de la Muerte, roughly translated, means the Bull of Death. It's a somewhat odd moniker for a band better known for intricate harmonies and epic instrumentation than the speed, power or darkness that the English translation might have you believe.
But, in other ways, it's the perfect metaphor for the Colorado Springs group's intricate and lusciously layered, alt-drenched modern bar-rock: the intimate dance of the matador and the bull, teasingly intertwined in a display of grace, seduction and, ultimately, death.
That mix of beauty and drama permeated the group's 2007 debut EP, Atop the Belle Isle. An expertly drafted concept album, it was inspired by the life and death of legendary illusionist Harry Houdini. Atop complex harmonies, Toro indulged in cleverly written metaphors and double entendres, rich with imagery and urgency.
"They say that you risked too much this time / But I know you'll escape somehow alive," they sing in the carnival-esque waltz "Blood on Their Tongues," while the more up-tempo country/western romp "Sometimes You Eat the Bar" (possibly the greatest-ever ode to the act of regurgitation) salutes Houdini's untimely demise with the line, "If I time it all just right / I'll be handsome when I die."
The group's new material is no less concept-driven: "It makes for interesting lyrical content," says Toro bass player Mike Nipp, who, along with vocalist/keyboardist Jeff Fuller, is a former member of Colorado Springs' seminal indie-pop powerhouse, Against Tomorrow's Sky. "It's fun to write about. Instead of Against Tomorrow's Sky, where we were trying to write about chicks every song."
El Toro de la Muerte was originally formed as a "power duo" in early 2006 by guitarist/keyboardist Ryan Spradlin and Julian Dumont, one of the hardest-hitting drummers in Colorado. (Disclosure: Over a decade ago, Julian and I played together in ghoul-punk outfit the Deadites, where he would often break drum pedals. Not sticks, mind you, pedals!) Sensing insufficient "power" in the duo, they went on to recruit the ATS refugees. Toro turned into a quintet with the addition of Jay Schwan, who first joined the group for its Halloween 2008 tribute to the Cure.
The band's highly anticipated new album will be recorded at Denver's 8 Houses Down early next year. This time the songs, such as the already-Internet-leaked "1970: Watching Weather Build" and "1972: Sour Rain," revolve around a man named Roy Sullivan, aka the Human Lightning Rod. Born in 1912, Sullivan was hit by lightning, and survived, on seven separate occasions. Reportedly, he eventually ended his own life, distraught over a woman, at the age of 71.
"The wrath of God, I can handle that," says Fuller. "The wrath of woman ... done for."
And what about the Against Tomorrow's Sky reunion rumors that are swirling now that drummer Shawn Stafford is back in town?
"[Toro] is first priority for me," says Fuller, whose old band also included the ubiquitous Mike Stephens.
"I don't want to start any rumors," adds Nipp. "We did get together and talk about it, but nothing is happening, yet."