The eighth studio album from rap-rock stalwarts P.O.D., 2012's Murdered Love reunites the band with Howard Benson, the producer of the band's biggest album, 2001's Satellite. Once again featuring the lead vocals of Sonny Sandoval, as well as longtime guitarist Marcos Curiel, who rejoined the band for 2008's When Angels and Serpents Dance, Murdered Love is a back-to-basics affair that finds the band re-investigating its initial influences of rap, punk rock, and reggae. When guitarist Curiel returned to the band he co-founded for 2008's When Angels and Serpents Dance, he brought with him some of the more rambunctious and sprawling punk inclinations the band had started out with. In many ways, Murdered Love continues that aesthetic, and finds the band still on a path of rediscovering its roots.
Which isn't to say that P.O.D. relinquished their love of punk, rap, and reggae while working with the more metal-leaning guitarist Jason Truby for 2003's Payable on Death and 2006's Testify. On the contrary, Truby's crisp attack and virtuoso style fit well with singer/MC Sonny's swaggering and impassioned vocal presence, and those albums worked well in moving the band in a more produced, mainstream direction. But P.O.D. always had a one-for-all-and-all-for-Jah family vibe, and there was just something invigorating about Curiel's return to the fold that seemed re-ignite the band's D.I.Y., garage-reggae meets post-hardcore and punk-rap approach. While the band's sound here leans toward the more grungy end of hardcore, P.O.D. have always evinced a knack for hooky pop songwriting, and the best tracks here are the more melodic, pop-oriented ones. Cuts like the groove-oriented "Higher" and the blissful and epic "Lost in Forever" combine low-end guitar fuzz with sparkling, harmonized choruses that ring in your head long after they've ended.
Similarly, the deftly simple and romantically epic ballad "Beautiful" has a '90s, Smashing Pumpkins sound and is easily one of the most moving and heartfelt songs the band has ever delivered. Elsewhere, the group references '90s West Coast rap and '70s soul on the bright and head-bobbing "West Coast Rock Steady," featuring a guest appearance from Cypress Hill's Sen Dog. Certainly, longtime fans are well aware of P.O.D.'s Christian beliefs and nobody should be surprised that the title track to Murdered Love, as well as most of the songs on it, play with Christian themes, often in a dark, purposefully disturbing way. On the fiery leadoff cut "Eyez," Sandoval exhorts believers and non-believers alike, "Awake and scream all who sleep in the earth/Hear His voice in the grave, arise and step forth/And make your stand while men run for the hills/Fill the valley with blood and flood the killing fields/Keep laughing now, you’re gonna regret it then/Cuz this day God will judge all the secrets of men." But rather than coming off as religious blowhards, P.O.D. still just seem like exuberant West Coast hip-hop punks, emboldened by scripture and still riding high on positive vibes while making a play for their perfect girl, as on the infectious "Bad Boy." Sonny sings, "I like the girl with the big ol' eyes/Cuz I can see her mind, body and soul harmonize," and later, "You know that I'm a bad boy but I wanna good girl/To share my world and show you how I do it." Ultimately, sharing their world is what P.O.D. do best and that's what Murdered Love is all about. ~ Matt Collar