Ever since discussing their Halsway Manor residency and the then upcoming album resulting from that earlier this year when I interviewed Faustus, I was looking forward to hearing the result. Several friends of mine saw the band promoting Death and Other Animals on their recent tour, and afterwards lamented a departure from the Morris tunes of Doctor Faustus that takes them now more towards songs; yet as Slaves opens up I find myself grateful for that. The catchy chorus picks up exactly where their previous album, Broken Down Gentlemen (2013), left off. It’s catchy, boisterous, and contains an apt message for these political times we find ourselves in, matched with the punchy song arranging that gave us Og’s Eye Man on their previous album. As the second song bursts into life with False Foxes, I find myself thinking that the opening track, previously heard on the radio, is not a one off. Paul Sartin, Benji Kirkpatrick, and Saul Rose are indeed on fine form so far.
However, one should not be led astray. This album is not Broken Down Gentlemen. It has a more raw sound and feel that is slightly darker, in a way, but the music feels tighter and more confident whilst still developing on the old ideas that we have all come to love about the self-acclaimed “bloke folk” trio. While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping is the first “merry” song of the album, and it is a relief to me to hear, three songs in, that Faustus continue to delegate vocal responsibilities across the three of them instead of relying on one lead vocalist. The Bill Caddick cover, Oh To Be A King, marks a nice departure from faster songs, with a beautiful violin-melodeon combination supporting Kirkpatrick’s vocals nicely, in a way that works just as well recorded as it did back in March when I saw them perform it. After the extended outro to the Caddick song finishes, The Deadly Sands begins, the other new song I had previously heard live, and once again I am of the opinion that it is just as good on the studio version. The more minor, dark, punchy feel of the earlier tracks is back, with short and sharp melodeon chords that bring to mind imagery of a ship in a storm, and the chorus is so easy and fun to join in with that it sounds like it very much like it would work as a shanty. Initially, I was not too keen on Gurt Dog, but as the haunting melody gets going one will quickly fall in love with it, although at nearly seven minutes in length one does need to be patient to give it that chance; it does work very nicely as an interlude before Kirkpatrick’s vocals and guitar take the forefront again in Adieu to Bon Country.
Some dance tunes are presented to us in the form of Harry Kitchener’s Jig as the penultimate track on the album, and just like much of the rest of the album they represent fine musicianship and a spectacular arrangement. With tunes like these, it seems a bit of a shame that most of the venues Faustus tend to play are seated ones! The temptation to get up and have a dance would just be too much, I think. A more melancholy ending note, on the other hand, is a stark contrast to this in Death Goes A Walking, an ominous but poetic lament begins the track, with Kirkpatrick playing chords that sound almost like clockwork under some fantastic vocal harmonies from Rose and Sartin. The short jiggy bursts after the choruses are great fun, and lend a really interesting touch to a flawless arrangement. I particularly appreciate the occasional ring of the church bell in the background as well, even though I cannot see them pulling it out live. Wow, is all I can say. I thought Broken Down Gentlemen was a good album, but Death and Other Animals seems to change the game completely, and bring it up several notches. The album, as a whole, displays modern English folk music at its finest. It is punchy and morbid when it needs to be, but also fast paced, progressive, and most importantly, great fun. It is unpredictable, and no two songs sound anything alike each other which is always a huge advantage. It is well produced, and is pulled off excellently. In fact, I find myself drawn to this month’s “Monsters of Folk” issue of fRoots Magazine, asking: “Show of Hands, Seth Lakeman, Kate Rusby, but who’s next?” Faustus, that’s who.