Review: Trumpets of Death – Teeth + Teeth = Teeths

Hey kids! Been a bit quiet round these parts for the last few weeks, hasn’t it? But to make up for that, here’s the first of two or three (or four if I really get my arse into gear) reviews which will hopefully tie up some of the loose ends of 2011, predictably culminating in some kind of best-of list thing, in case you’re not already totally fucking sick of those by now. From next month onwards I’ll be focusing on 2012 releases (I’m already aching to get my mits on the new Thinking Plague album) but till then, let’s party like it’s 2011!

A dark, swirling miasma of sax, synth, clanks, creaks and sundry sonic fripperies come creeping out of my speakers, followed by slow, wavering folk-tinged vocals that weave their way into the foreground like some sort of ghostly ship crossing an ink-black, post-storm sea.

Yes, scoff all you like at that excruciatingly laboured nautical metaphor, but for all its pretensions its aptness is undeniable, for this bafflingly-titled debut release by Leeds-based avant-rock/folk/jazzers Trumpets of Death owes almost as much to traditional sea shanties as it does to noise rock and related avant-gardery.

This record starts as it means to go on, with the predominantly dirge-like tempos, minor chords and ghostly production of opening track “The Press Gang” carried right the way through this confident and startling EP. The resulting atmosphere is almost oppressively bleak at times but a sinister gleefulness does occasionally creep in (such as during the delightfully wonky tango-tinged finale to “The Paper Plough”). Mind you, those squealing saxes and distorted organs certainly wouldn’t put a smile on everyone’s face, even if it did have me grinning like a tool.

But for all their instrumental prowess, its those wavering, unironically folk-influenced vocals which make the biggest impact on first listen, especially on the comparatively un-folky “Jason”. There’s something about uprooting this kind of singing from its traditional setting and plonking it in some grimy avant-rock environs which transforms them both, and the result is more often than not really quite compelling.

“Woodrow’s Lament” practically forgoes melody altogether and pushes things into flat-out drone territory, replete with groaning wordless vocals and layer upon layer of intense sound. Fortunately, album closer “Cruel Ship’s Captain” brings us back into demented sea shanty territory, slamming in with a loud, meaty, discordant 6/8 riff and those creepy, folky, weirdly beguiling vocals. This builds to an exhilarating (but frustratingly brief) little freak out with drums, saxes and guitar locked into a complex, climactic groove.

It’s not a perfect debut as such, but it gets pretty bloody close at times. Clocking in at a unusually-generous-for-an-EP-but-a-bit-too-stingy-for-an-album 33 minutes certainly ensures that Trumpets of Death don’t outstay their welcome, but I’m consequently left yearning for that rollicking last track to linger for just a few minutes longer. The surprising cocktail of avant-rock and sea shanty is certainly a successful one but songs like “Jason” and “Woodrow’s Lament” suggest that Trumpets of Death have plenty of potential beyond that particular gimmick. I’m giddy with anticipation at the thought of where they may go from here.

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