Here’s an interesting one, Teeth of the Sea Highly Deadly Black Tarantula from way, way back in the mists of time*.
I bought it because I went nuts for their 2013 LP, Master which sounded for all the world, like a war of liberation waged against our robot overlords in the year 2175. Master is easily one of my absolute favourite LPs of the last 5 years, a fact that was cemented by catching them live in 2014, let’s face it nobody mixes screaming rock guitar, sequencers and synths, melancholy trumpet playing and slamming electronic beats the way Teeth of the Sea do.
So I pre-ordered Highly Deadly Black Tarantula which came in lovely bright blue vinyl and I loved the cover image and the really rather stylish inner sleeve. I also rather liked the track names ‘Animal Manservant’ and ‘Have You Ever Held a Bird of Prey?’**. Then I whacked it on the turntable and was distinctly underwhelmed, played it a few more times since and that’s pretty much where I still am today.
It starts well with ‘All My Venom’ which is eerie and a little menacing, TOTS throw in all their trademark tropes into the, umm, trope pan but we don’t end up being trepanned the way that their earlier work did for us. Towards the end ‘… Venom’ incorporates what I can only describe as some very quiet screaming, which cranks the nightmare element up to 11. The incoherent screaming continues on follow up track ‘Animal Manservant’, which sounds like someone counting in German under extreme duress and the beats bristle and strut – it sounds like a Venusian marine boot camp^. Over and above all this is some rather Vangelis-sy synth tones, but the tone maintained is horrific rather than pacific.
All of which sort of raises the question of precisely when would you play Highly Deadly Black Tarantula? apart from children’s parties and granny’s 85th birthday do, of course. You would need a very specific group of guests at a dinner to really grok this one and I really couldn’t see it paving the way to getting your evil way with a hot date, unless you were trying to get them to huddle against you broken and cowed in abject fear and existential sci-fi angst.
The LP dips a lot over the course of the next two tracks ‘Field Punishment’, which rehashes TOTS’ sound without really taking it anywhere else, beats and trumpet are cool but … I need more, it sounds like a bit of a place marker. ‘Have You Ever Held a Bird of Prey’ loses me every time I play it, it begins with 4 minutes of almost silence, imagine if you will the opening machine-y noises of Pink Floyd’s ‘Welcome to the Machine’ but turned way down down down in the mix so as to be almost inaudible. I can take a steadily-building atmosphere of dread as well as the next dude, but this loses my attention every time. That aside even, it fails to break into anything more climactic than a thrum by the end of its’ 7:44 anyway, giving rise to a feeling of dissatisfaction that lingers through the minute long ‘Phonogene’ and its’ melange of static and crackle.
Every time I play the LP through as a whole I am never quite clear as to whether Highly Deadly Black Tarantula is redeemed by the closer, ‘Love Theme For 1984’. Over the course of 11 minutes we get a sweeping soundtrack-esque resolution, synths playing against a deep guitar, yet more melancholy trumpet, a gentleness, a hint of waves and, irritatingly, another minute of silence before the end. It is a delicately constructed confection but not one that satisfies properly. Which I accept may be my fault rather than TOTS, they are perhaps serving me a petit four when all I am capable of appreciating is a deep-fried Mars bar, but the whole LP does just miss a gear for me.
One day I may have a eureka moment with this album, although I suspect that may just be wishful thinking because I’d always take Master over it every time. Which may simply be the case of a differently-focused follow-up being over-shadowed by a great album, that’s no excuse for the prolonged longueur at the centre of the album though. Ah well.
PS. This is TOTS at their best, for me:
*or November 2015.
**although Master‘s ‘Put Me On Your Shoulders So I Can See The Rats’ wins, hands down.
^reputedly the toughest tri-tentacled hombres in the galaxy. True story.