Review Summary: From a poisoned well.Total Depravity
is Finn Andrews’ dark night of the soul, but Andrews is certainly not interested in seeking a union with God at journey’s end. The Veils’ frontman is much more the type to slither and moan, dragging himself along through a hellscape of his own making, dripping with blood and bile and haunted by the shrieks of old ghosts. Drama has always been the Veils’ stock in trade, and Andrews its raging id and black hat-adorned soothsayer; this is a man, after all, who debuted in 2004 with the lines “your knives are sharp / when you put them in my heart / though the truth, you’d say / is I like them there that way.” If there’s a band that could write a single about a Mexican walking salamander sound like a summoning call to some demon, vocals shredded and distorted, backed by an apocalyptic swell of horns and a feral guitar, and have it not be absolutely pretentious and/or ridiculous – well, that’s sort of what the Veils do best. On Total Depravity
, they wear that black hat perhaps better than they ever have before.
Beginning with that Renaissance-via-Argento album art and the twisted, thoroughly disturbing music video for “Axolotl,” right through to the closer’s defiantly Nick Cave-ian impression, the Veils maintain a consistent mood here that can best be described as beautifully tortured. It’s less of a change in sound for the group and more a careful application of the right textures, namely something scaly and harsh, bursts of electronics and guitars that wail. It’s a fitting accompaniment to Andrews’ usual fire and brimstone, which is in rare form here. On “King of Chrome,” the finest example of his particular storytelling style and a cathartic slow burn in the mold of fan favorite “Jesus for the Jugular,” Andrews makes what is easily the most exciting song ever about long-haul truck drivers, in this case one who may or may not be a sociopathic murderer or unholy revenant of some sort. A lyric like “he drinks elixir from a plastic cup” would elicit laughs in any other context, but Andrews’ talent is in selling you on the imagery, making you feel the darkness rushing by, the crushing solitude a real and dangerous weight. The bubbling synths and a bass line that threaten a thunderstorm certainly help, and producer El-P deserves serious credit for tinkering with the Veils’ aesthetic to add noticeable changes to their sound that nevertheless sound like they’ve been a part of the band forever. El-P is an inspired if odd choice – the haunting touches he brings to tracks like the forlorn, dusty “In the Blood” and the soulful beats on the swooning “Swimming with the Crocodiles” are unobtrusive but essential. “Here Comes the Dead,” meanwhile, is perhaps their best marriage, an aggressive rhythm that rumbles along to Andrews’ vocals while a violent guitar riff swoops in like a swarm of hornets.
While it doesn’t quite reach the songwriting highs and wrenching lows of 2006’s Nux Vomica
(few things do), Total Depravity
avoids the dead spots that have plagued the Veils’ last two records by ensuring that atmosphere of dread remains consistent. Even the gorgeous ballad “Iodine & Iron,” a lush version of the bare-bones acoustic track from 2011’s Troubles of the Brain
EP, is a love song in the past tense: “Love, you’re stripping me down, like turpentine / still you wait for me / then you leave no trace / yeah you wait for me / soon I’ll be erased.” The somewhat jaunty “House of Spirits” revolves around a shimmering guitar line and Andrews’ somewhat jumbled, off-kilter delivery, but it’s all burned-out homes and voices in the walls, as if Andrews’ mind is working double-time to get all these horrific images out of his head and he can’t help but trip over his own tongue. “I can see you in my nightmares / I can see you in my dreams / honey, everything I strive for / ain’t what it seems,” Andrews sings on “Do Your Bones Glow At Night,” his voice buried under effects, and it’s this teetering mental state that permeates Total Depravity’s
narratives of sin and sensuality, giving it its thrill and a monstrous heart prone to explode at any moment. It’s a combination that is hopeless and raw, transforming an almost corrosive despair into something sexy and deliriously, deliciously wrong. Few bands can balance this turmoil with purpose and direction; fewer frontmen still can make it seem like a trip you want to take, again and again.