Nightmares can sound romantic, just as industrial noise can seem inexplicably enticing. At least, that’s what Ritual Howls have somehow proven with Turkish Leather, their second album and first on Felte.
The Detroit-based trio toes this rather thin line between dark psychedelic dirges saturated with supernatural sounds and more caustic, malevolent marches toward industrial rock’s experimentalism. Essentially, the feat achieved by Leather’s eight expansive trips is giving a refreshed allure and coolness to otherwise spooky ambiances, mechanical rhythms and rather macabre lyrics. This is what it sounds like when keen atmospheric magicians conjure a bit of dream-pop miasma and nervy post-punk grit and apply it to a musical mood teetering on the edge of all-out apocalyptical gloom. But as we say, gloom (and, dare we say, goth) aside, it still sounds pretty damn cool.
“The Taste Of You” opens with the metallic clang of sequenced beats echoing off of an already unnerving drum’s booming march, evoking a rusty assembly line’s lurch through some rundown smelting factory slumped on the borders of netherwhere. Dark, right? But then those reverb-sopped guitars flourish at each refrain, and it adds that necessary radiance, that hint of daylight into the dark, sounding nostalgic and almost sweet, like something out of a Link Wray jukebox dusting up some diner on Route 66.
These aren’t songs you’ll be whistling to yourself. And, they’re certainly not some fun feel-good summer jams. So what’s keeping you? Is it the subdued melodrama in the vocal delivery or the creepy-yet-sensual lyrics? Those cresting guitars between the choruses, bending and arching their droning notes, clouded with just the right amount of distortion and teasing echo? Is it that simple churning bass, with its two notes chugged like a heartbeat, keeping you right here, in its groove, like the inescapably hypnotic pull of a bonfire’s wavy flickering? You’re under the Ritual Howls spell.
Indeed, we could trace sonic/stylistic lineages back to post-punk and new wave, and we could certainly drop names like Echo & The Bunnymen, Joy Division, Gary Numan. But, by comparison, Ritual Howls makes all of those bands’ ostensible “dark sides” seem quaint. Stay on the “dark” path of Turkish Leather and you’ll only be rewarded towards the end, with tracks like “No Witnesses” mashing up a beat that’s arguably danceable under guitars vicious enough to be considered heavy metal and, finally, the title track, using eerie spoken-word recordings and found sounds for a rhythmic pattern. Get entranced.