Carpenter Brut – ‘Leather Terror’

By Fiachra Johnston

Of all the progenitors of that cult-of-neon we call synthwave releasing new records this season, Carpenter Brut may well be the most highly-anticipated. The slasher-inspired icon of the genre has never been one to be satisfied with standing still for too long, with his last full release ‘Leather Teeth’ moving away from the Lovecraft-inspired brutality of ‘Trilogy’ in favour of a perceived lighter, more dance-heavy soundscape. Yet in continuing the story of plucky young mass murderer Bret Halford, ‘Leather Terror’ ends up becoming Brut’s Terminator 2: a sequel album that redesigns, refines, and expands on its predecessor while staying true to its concept’s roots. The result is the perfect soundtrack to a night of violence, and with a host of perfectly picked collaborators, it makes for the elusive French musician’s most comprehensive record yet.

The most immediately visible strength of the record is the production. An open airiness like that of last year’s standalone ‘Fab Tool’ permeates the dark interior of ‘Leather Terror’. Where ‘Trilogy’ at places felt a little loose and often relied on its white-knuckle, speed-freak pace and hypnotic riffs to cover for some squashed electronic bass lines, there’s a far clearer sound to so much of this record. The riffs are still there, and LT’s atmosphere can still be described as unrelenting, but everything feels tighter and more expressive, with nothing being overwhelmed in a wave of electronica.

The titular ‘Leather Terror’, featuring the sinisterly dulcet tones of Tribulation’s Jonka Andersson, is a perfectly grim and dark example of Brut’s further foray into the backend of his work, laden with pipe organs and haunting vocals that never overshadow or feel crowded by his signature buzzing synths and keys. It’s a suitably grand closing to the album (and a perfect cliffhanger to a pre-supposed third entry into Brut’s “Leather” trilogy), and is one of the strongest of the record, alongside the equally enrapturing ‘Stabat Mater’, a gorgeously ethereal track featuring guest vocals from Kathrine Shepard of Sylvaine.

While Brut is no stranger to collaborative efforts and exciting guest features, you’ll see many of these features end up making the highlight reel of this record, as he teams up with vocalists that perfectly match the incredibly stylistic world his albums bring to life. ‘The Widow Maker’ features a long-awaited collaboration with Alex Westaway of GUNSHIP, with lighter keys and a percussion line that belongs in an 80’s montage. Ulver’s Kristoffer Rygg (who Brut recently produced a remix for) joins in on something of an early moment of reprieve in ‘…Good Night, Goodbye’, bringing back some of that school dance feeling that ‘Leather Teeth’ often incorporated into its own sound. As if they were characters within the album’s world of Midwich, these guest vocalists feel right at home, never overshadowing the continuously-excellent instrumental work but always playing a key role in the success of ‘Leather Terrors’ 80’s slasher sound. 

Carpenter Brut is never one to let the listener down in terms of new experience, but the clever mix of sharp walls of sounds mixed with more open, but still aggressive instrumentation feels like the perfect blend of old and new, making ‘Leather Terror’ a surprisingly sharp step up from it’s predecessor. Nothing quite hits like the original 80’s style of ‘Trilogy’, but in terms of production, and in retaining the murderous dancehall aesthetic while amping the intensity to 11, Brut has shown just how complete of a musician he’s become. Don’t say sequels never live up to the hype of the original. 

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

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