First of all, The Veils’ excellent fifth album Total Depravity contains the only song to be written from the point of view of an axolotl – or a ‘Mexican walking salamander’ as it’s known colloquially. This hodgepodge of a creature looks like a fish with legs, and for the rest of you nature-fact-fans out there, the axolotl is critically endangered but is widely used in scientific research because of its ability to regenerate limbs.
Now, any music journalist worth their dark-rimmed glasses would make a big deal about how this is analogous to the London five piece (the mutating nature of the band’s sound, its various line-up changes, the exceptional and rare talent of lead-vocalist and songwriter Finn Andrews) but ultimately ‘Axolotl’ is a fucking massive tune. And I’m just not that good a music journalist.
As an introduction to Total Depravity, ‘Axolotl’ sets the scene perfectly. It’s dark, soul-shaking, degenerate, oddly uplifting… utterly unique. It’s in part thanks to the incredibly rich production from Run the Jewels’ El-P that The Veils have taken on all these complexities (there’s also the unmistakable air of Baby Huey’s ‘Hard Times’ that gives ‘Axolotl’ its swagger and resilience) but Finn Andrews’ lyrics and the band’s focus on mining every last drop of musicality out of every tune means that Total Depravity is career-best stuff.
Tracks such as the single ‘Low Lays the Devil’ are perhaps what brought you here in the first place – it’s an accessible introduction to the depraved, leather-tanned side of rock n roll – and it’s something that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Black Keys or Queens of the Stone Age album. But it’s the less immediate tracks that truly get under your skin.
‘King of Chrome’ is an unnerving, knuckle-torturing journey that finds you locked against your will in the cab of a phantom truck-driver as he careens down the freeway looking for hell-knows-what. It’s true horror, but Christ it’s addictive. ‘Here Comes the Dead’ is equally jarring, but just as propulsive and satisfying. ‘A Bit On the Side’ has the Lynchian vibe of something wickedly seductive and dangerous approaching, but it gives way to a glorious chorus full of wanton lust and passionate self-destruction.
There are moments of tenderness. ‘Swimming With Crocodiles’ is a beautiful, captivating ballad full of vulnerability and yearning, but manages to be incredibly catchy in a similar way to a timeless soft-rock hit from The Cars. ‘Iodine and Iron’ is a swooning, heart-broken elegy full of delicate pianos and swelling strings that just stays the right side of melodrama to remain affecting. It’s this focus on gothically adorned drama laced with catchy-as-fuck melodies, as exemplified by ’House of Spirits’ or the gorgeous ‘Do Your Bones Glow at Night’, that make Total Depravity a raging success.
The album ends with its titular threat of ‘Total Depravity’. When I say this final track is the perfect blend of Nick Cave menace and Ian Curtis angst, set against an overwhelming swell of industrial synthpop, I’m basically saying it’s the most wonderful thing I’ve heard this year. And although it may end with the grimly intoned “this whole universe is just mud and bone, and you carry what you can alone” you’ll immediately want to experience the whole thing again.
But then, I am one totally depraved axolotl. 5/5