Album Review: Wraith by Teeth of the Sea

I think that it is fair to say that Teeth of the Sea (TOTS) are one of my ‘goto’ groups, and if you look at a list of such bands they all have one thing in common: constant evolution and innovation. I am fairly restless when it comes to my musical taste… I do not stay still… I am always looking for the next thing to excite me… the status quo is not an option.

It is this restlessness that meant that the imminent arrival of a new TOTS album is one of my most anticipated musical events of 2019. This was heralded at one of my musical highlights of 2018, when TOTS performed a blistering performance at the event celebrating 20 years of Rocket Recordings back in March. It was a set, as far as I remember, of new music… music which has informed this album.

So it’s been almost a year now and the question is, has all that suspense been worth it? Have TOTS produced yet another different but TOTS-like album? Read on to find out.

Before that though I am going to briefly go back to the band’s previous release, ‘Highly Deadly Black Tarantula‘, which was stark and unyielding, yet with a fragile undercurrent which gave it depth and meaning. It was a massive brutalist concrete edifice which was, on occasion, afforded some very delicately carved stone-work.

Four years later ‘Wraith’ is still observably a TOTS album, but the overall atmosphere of it is very different. This, according to the press release, has been informed by a collective supernatural feeling that they had while recording this album back in November 2018:

It wasn’t just the more familiar spectres of the band’s collective and overactive imagination – the unruly morass of ‘80s horror and sci-fi movies, industrial ballast, 2000AD terror, ‘70s-damaged experimental brinksmanship and atmospheric grandeur that they’d somehow conspire to sculpt into coherent structures. For as much as the band were determined to create a vivid and maximalist work that threw all of the wildest imagination into sharp relief, what resulted summarily went beyond anything they could have expected.

Teeth of the Sea Bandcamp (accessed 8/1/19)

I think this needs to be understood before listening to the album, since it helps explain where the band are going with this and, whatever the explanation for what they witnessed, there was a collective experience that informed the making of this work:

Teeth Of The Sea are frankly none the wiser as to what these disturbances meant and what caused them – a fissure in the astral plane, psychic disturbances brought on by societal collapse, or just a collective hallucination. Whichever, they can’t help but be grateful that these voices and visions made their mark on this record, and can only hope the music has allowed them safe passage to the beyond.

Teeth of the Sea Bandcamp (accessed 8/1/19)

And I think that we need to be grateful too, because this is an astounding album that I am only just getting to grips with after having listened to it over the course of a week now weirdly, although perhaps unsurprisingly, most powerfully on the way back from a Tai Chi class yesterday when I was perhaps at my most spiritually aware.

At this point of writing a review I am normally wanting to delve right into the album and start sharing my ideas about it. However, as I sit here listening to it I find myself to be in some form of stasis; not quite wanting to break the spell… knowing that by starting to write about it track-by-track will inevitably mean that I am closer to finishing it. Weird and worthy of comment however, pragmatically, I know that you’re not reading this to just observe my emotional ticks so let’s get into it.

Album open ‘I’d Rather, Jack’ starts in a fairly unremarkable way with all the hallmarks of a TOTS track that you would perhaps expect with a well-balanced mixture of electronica, trumpet, samples and a solid beat… there’s fragmentation but also out of it comes a melody that grabs you from the first moment you listen to it. Then the incongruous-in-any-other-band rock guitar slips in and BLAM! the ingredients are all there… and you are in no doubt whose album you are listening too.

The beginning of ‘Hiraeth’ tells you the same thing… the trumpet being the focus, but there is something else afoot here. As always I am not sure whether the press release means I am looking for it, but there does seem to be an underlying additional dimension in play here. Perhaps this is normal, and whereas on the last album it was a brutal political reality, here the band are channeling something that you can say is more overtly spiritual and experiential. Whatever, there is a depth… no, actually, there is a breadth to this which can take the listener into an alternative reality… be that spatially or psychologically… ‘Hiraeth’ feels like a siren call towards the other.

After that the ‘Burn of the Shieling’ looks to deepen our experience. A shieling is a term used in Scotland to describe a mountain hut used by shepherd in summer. These are, I guess, remote structures that suggest hermitic lifestyles. I just love the spiritually-charged organ that bookends this track, and the slow meditative journey of the trumpet that leads you as though acting as a sonic beacon through the wilderness… there is a quiet beauty here… a feeling of protection against outside forces.

If the previous two tracks had a singular beauty to them, ‘Fortean Steed’ is just stunning. A slow, minimalistic number which seems to exist outside of any structure until about a third of the way in when siren [that word again] voices further draw you in to this experience taking you further away, if you want to let it, from the realm of the mundane. Listening to this track is like going through some sort of gap in the space time continuum since it seems to take notably less time to play than it’s actual play-time suggests… again, weird.

Things being to change, however, with ‘VISITOR’. After three tracks which feel considered and introverted this has a much more open and energetic feel to it. Back are the beats from the opener, and you feel like you are emerging into an arena which is replete with possibilities. There is an overt freedom to this track which really opens you out as it takes you from one high to the next. There is a strange sparkle to it and is one of those TOTS tracks that if you cut in through the middle you’d see a thousand musical influences consciously and sub-consciously at play… put it on repeat and see what you find.

After the praise, comes the meditation. The simple opening of ‘Her Wraith’ takes us back into something more contemplative. This is an altogether darker vision, a spectral domain that is being reflected/ summoned… the moment when the temporal becomes spiritual. As it progresses, however, I begin to wonder whether it is not darkness that is being animated… rather a profundity… a seriousness which is challenging. Whatever it is ‘Her Wraith’ creates the space for such considerations.

After the brief interlude of ‘Wraiths on the Wall’, comes the intriguingly titled ‘Our Love Can Destroy This Whole Fucking World’. Beginning with the sound of medical equipment and a synth riff that sounds mysterious, you are immediately and simultaneously drawn into the music and thrown off guard by it. There is a real sense of defiance to this, a strength which is somehow brought back to a reality at the end as the ICU comes back into focus.

And then comes ‘Gladiators Ready’ which is a MASSIVE track that sees TOTS at their cinematic best. The pounding electronica, the heavy guitar, the pounding percussion and then the Moroder beat emerges and it just all fucking takes off and I feel total love! This is some way to finish an album that has taken the amenable listener through a gamut of experience and emotion to emerge at this party… whether it is the end or a pivot into something else this brings us out of wherever we are and sends us out into the dawn of something…

Wow! I’ve come to the end and, as I suspected, I feel a little sad that this review is now largely behind me. What I am not sad about is that I suspect that ‘Wraith’ still has far more to give. It is an album of depth and mystery that I am sure will shape shift to my current circumstances and challenge me afresh. Like most of TOTS work it feels like an album that is out of time and, as such, will stand the test.

‘Wraith’ is now available for pre-order here, and officially released on Rocket Recording on 22/2/19.



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