Here we are then, around fifteen years late, but it finally feels as if the end of the millennium has arrived. As the forces of power and terror mass within and without a great dystopian darkness seems to be falling on the land. While the mainstream media continues to spew out ephemera to keep the masses diverted away from it all, at the margins of culture there seems to be an awakening of macabre meaning.
The new Teeth of the Sea album has arrived like no other, by anyone. This is an album that has a ‘fuck you’ strength to it, yet closer inspection reveals an altogether more subtle and fragile sense of reality that suggests a real fear for the present and, I am sure, the future.
The album’s opener ‘All My Venom’ begins with a monotone, indeed monochrome, chord through which the lightness of a trumpet shines through. This is overpowered by a huge electronic beat and the sound of a far more sinister trumpet, and guitar. There seem to be two things competing here, hope and alienation. As the track plays out it becomes more and more sombre, building into a huge crescendo as the scene unfolds; even with some guitar reminiscent of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds: they are here! Who they are is not clear, more alienation than alien, but at just past five minutes into the track it explodes and the venom pours out: you can feel the anger and the despair in this huge moment of catharsis. This is music at it’s most powerful, music designed to overcome! I am exhausted and only at the end of track 1.
‘Animal Manservant’ is equally intense coming out of the traps like a huge snarling beast with a heavy beat and inflamed shrieking. Out of this evolves a melodic siren cry that proves an amazing and effective counterpoint. Gradually they pull together and we are left with a militaristic milieu which feels edgy and foreboding. This is a track that burns everything before it, including quite a few musical rule books….astonishing.
After that absolute assault comes ‘Field Punishment’, which, as the title suggests, does not allow much in the way of respite. More melodic and accessible than the previous two it nevertheless has a menace to it that is borne of fear rather than hope. As early melodies fade into more regimented EDM-style sounds there is a feeling of a descent into chaos as the track progresses something that resolves itself to a certain extent a more bucolic trumpet and guitar sounds bleed into the mix. There is a real tension between tunefulness and cacophony here in a way that, while not exactly controlled, is very effective.
The first four minutes of ‘Have You Ever Held a Bird of Prey’ is a minimalist hammering noise, the sound of torture perhaps, softening you up for the full assault that bursts out on you. It is like you are stuck in a room like Michael Caine in the Ipcress Files as voices float around the piercing and all encompassing beat, perhaps I am a traitor…perhaps the clock did strike thirteen…perhaps I will dream of electric sheep; whatever I am the music seems to be saying that this experience has changed me forever
The short interlude that is ‘Phonogene’ does nothing to calm the disquiet of what has gone before and merely sets up the heavy breathing at the beginning of the final track ‘Love Theme For 1984’. This feels very much like the calm after the storm, when everything has been done and we emerge into a new dawn, not the people we were, nor the people we wanted to be. Amidst the calm is still the disquiet as voices continue to drone under the surface, but gradually the new reality burns through and a new strength and purpose are established. The struggle is over and the victory has been won…but by whom?
This is an astonishing album in its depth and scope. It has many elements from Teeth of the Sea’s previous work. It represents a real step forward from the previous and already excellent album ‘Master’, and also takes clues from the band’s more recent soundtrack release ‘A Field In England:Re-imagined’. ‘Highly Deadly Black Tarantula’ is very much an album for our times, an album of desolation and perhaps in the final track also one of hope; although that hope is not without ambiguity.
I was fortunate enough to see Teeth of the Sea perform much of the album live at the band’s recent gig at Islington Mill in Salford. The tracks that they played that night demanded that you danced to them, there was also some older tracks like ‘Reaper’ and Dreadnought’ included in the set. I found it to be a very powerful performance of their music that validated my sense that Teeth of the Sea are one of the most innovative and interesting bands around at the moment. They may be at the margins of culture but they are helping my understanding of it.