Punk – the traditional kind, where sound is more important than image – is in a fantastic place. The whole spectrum, and every prefix from post- to pop-, is being represented by excellent bands.
Sauna Youth are from the more terrifying end of that spectrum, twisting horrifying soundscapes into tightly wound classic punk shapes. Across the record, you hear shades of the early melodrama of The Damned, the mechanical chug of Killing Joke and the razor-sharp incisiveness of Siouxsie and the Banshees. There’re also plenty of similarities with future tourmates Protomartyr and previous tourmates Pissed Jeans in both outlook and execution.
The scariest track amongst the lot is “Problems”, which is joyously torturous. It’s a relentless little number built on endless repetition of the title, with searing leads and an overwhelming, claustrophobic, air-tight atmosphere. The reign of terror is slightly relaxed on the following track – “No Personal Space” is true '77 punk, from the slashing, jangling chords to the deadpan delivery.
There are many odd, head-scratchingly brilliant moments scattered throughout the record. Firstly, there’s an absolutely ridiculous cock-rock guitar solo in “In Flux”. Secondly, the opening drumbeat from The Damned’s “New Rose” appears at the outset of “No Personal Space”, along with references to roses in the lyrics. Two parts of a short story appear in spoken-word format in “Swerve” and “The Patio”. “Swerve” in particular recalls the Velvet Underground’s “The Gift” in its eeriness and its cold, clinical exposing of the human condition.
Weird moments like this set Deaths apart from many modern punk records – these are personal touches, making the construction of the record as unique to this band as Dave Vanian’s facepaint is to him.
Your enjoyment of this thing is predicated on whether you need much light and shade in your nightmares. Deaths is nightmarish throughout – not only in the sound, but in the lyrics. Much like Mark E. Smith, frontwoman Ecke delivers words about the rawness of modern life with a particularly bilious edge, and a dark sense of glee.
The violence and sheer horror of Deaths is not only immensely enjoyable, but utterly necessary. Sometimes, if not all the time, we turn to music or media outlets that dull our minds to the terror of just getting through a day without dying and we become desensitised to the nature of the world we live in. Sometimes, just sometimes, we need to be reminded to keep our eyes open – and Sauna Youth do a fantastic job of reminding us just how bad it’s got while we had our eyes closed.