‘It’s oddly fun, a Halloween thrill, a dark romance at the back of the cinema, all red velour and art deco stucco‘ – Dara Higgins on Ritual Howls‘ Turkish Leather
Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, Ritual Howls seem to have embraced their brokedown post-industrial apocalyptical cityscapes to create the kind of noise that numerous dour Northerners did in England back in the late seventies, notably The Sisters of Mercy or Bauhaus. Opening track Zemmoa starts with a clean twang of synth, before the booming, jarring incising of Ritual Howls’ own Doktor Avalanche reveals himself. Thumping along at motoric pace, the dry snare echoing back at us, accompanied by vocals dolorous and deep. It sounds familiar, cold and sheer and just like the stuff I would have found succour in back when I had hair. My Friends zips along at the same tempo as tempo as Temple of Love, layering guitars noises to create an immediacy, the vocals raise the ante by an octave to give us a thrill.
It would be facile to reach for comparisons too early. Vocalist Paul Bancell’s delivery is laden with the same treacly dark matter that Eldritch used to croon at us, but without the cloying self-regard. But there’s more to it than that. Elements of David Eugene Edwards proliferate, there’s some Michael Gira, Cave as well. It lacks the kind of visceral emoting those lads would be known for, but that’s not a bad thing. Turkish Leather is a far less attritional experience than anything Swans have done. Take Me Up’s almost jaunty, rolling fairground motif fails to scare. It’s not the scene where the teens take refuge in a disused, dilapidated fun fair, but rather the one at the beginning at the film where they’re still at the keg party and there’s some sombre, serious types on the stage.
Indeed, the band themselves seem to be scoring imaginary films, ones of empty highways, vampirical narratives, cold, cloud laden, industrial failure, fleeting faces amid the rubble. That kind of thing. Jarmusch guitars twang across Final Service, like Blixa strumming outside a disused gas station on route 56. You know, the route that no one goes down. “The cloaks are coming,” croons Bancell. Yes, yes they are.
The darkness feels theatrical, which is good. The album doesn’t buckle under the weight of its, well, weight, and among the crooning gloom, glimmers of hope emerge. Clever guitar lines and subtle keyboards. It’s oddly fun, a Halloween thrill, a dark romance at the back of the cinema, all red velour and art deco stucco. Turkish Leather is these things then, rather than the funereal sound of a society collapsing upon itself, a trail of empty eyed building crumbling in its wake. And that’s okay, really.