by Ben Sapet
In the late 1970s going into 1980s, horror movies changed dramatically as genres shifted from psychological thrillers to slashers, and the piercing string-heavy scores gave way to tense, swirling synthesizers. This change was due in no small part to the now-legendary writer, director, and composer John Carpenter (most famous for Halloween and The Thing) who effectively changed the sound and atmosphere of horror movies. At the same time, theatrically macabre metal acts like Alice Cooper and KISS gave way to the pop-infused glam metal made famous by Mötley Crüe, Poison, and Quiet Riot.
The intersection of these movements in film and music inspires Carpenter Brut’s latest album, Leather Teeth. The French synthwave/darkwave artist has not been quiet about the inspiration he’s taken from John Carpenter (his namesake) and metal. The album manages to combine these inspirations to great effect.
Leather Teeth is framed as the soundtrack to an imagined 80s coming of age slasher movie of the same name. The release trailer introduces the movie/album’s concept. A freak lab accident transforms a nerdy high-schooler who’s been scorned by the cheerleader he likes and bullied by the football team into a Jekyll and Hyde-esque character. His Jekyll is Leather Teeth, the front man for the ghoulish glam rock band, Leather Patrol. His Hyde is known only as the Beast, a gruesome slasher who, in typical slasher movie fashion, hunts and kills the band’s groupies.
(CONTENT WARNING: Gore and sexual content)
When the soundtrack is the movie
From the cold open title track “Leather Teeth” to the final track “End Titles” and the movie poster-inspired album art, this album is overtly cinematic. Leather Teeth makes masterful use of the genre conventions of ’80s slasher movies to create a detail-rich, expressive story arc without relying on visuals. You can almost feel the directorial presence in the music, shaping images in your imagination and moving the camera along with what we expect from the ’80s horror genre.
In the title track, for example, you can hear the moment where omen turns to terror as the slasher bursts out to hunt down his teenaged victim in a dogged chase—or the moment where Brut cuts away from the chase for a jarringly tranquil establishing shot and then turns his focus back to the chase. This album is not, like many scores and soundtracks, treated as secondary to the visuals. Instead, as a soundtrack with only a trailer, Leather Teeth evokes a nearly fully-realized movie in the listener’s mind using only eight tracks of shredding guitar riffs, pounding drums, and gritty, emotive synths.
A wild half hour worth repeating
At only 32 minutes, it’s fortunate that none of Leather Teeth’s eight tracks limp. The consistency and tight structure ultimately pay off as the Beast’s fierce, heavy darkwave instrumentals can alternately contrast or combine with Leather Patrol’s glam rock. Delving back into Leather Teeth for repeat listens is exhilarating because every time, the images your mind sets to the soundtrack become clearer and the story develops in your imagination. While it is certainly brief, the album bursts with exciting and compelling details. If anything, Leather Teeth’s biggest shortcoming is that we can’t sink our teeth into more of Carpenter Brut’s rich, cinematic vision.
Carpenter Brut captures the essence of ’80s horror using the genre’s auditory motifs and impressive instrumental storytelling—but only the essence. While he excels at communicating his vision in his music, the album’s breakneck pace separates it from the likes of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. These movies relish in the gleeful build-up before the fake blood starts to pour, but Leather Teeth’s urgency makes its moments of anticipation an exception rather than the rule. Perhaps the problem is that Carpenter Brut over-distills the genre and filters out the breathing room audiences need to gasp at what comes next.
“Monday Hunt” and “Inferno Galore,” for example, buzz back-to-back with a feverish intensity. On film, the looming baseline and shredding guitars on “Monday Hunt” might be intercut with the fast, gritty dance floor synths of “Inferno Galore” to create a single thriving sequence. This, however, is not an option for a story told only by soundtrack. Instead, the two tracks detract from one another because of their forced proximity on an album so compact.
Leather Teeth’s brevity makes it more of an outline than a complete story, but that plays into the album’s greatest strength: Carpenter Brut’s ability to paint a picture in the listener’s imagination with his synths and Leather Patrol’s ghoulish glam metal backing. The album makes you do the work, with Brut pointing the camera and your mind deciding what’s on the other end.
“Cheerleader Effect (feat. Kristoffer Rygg)”
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Featured image from Metal Sucks
Carpenter Brut is back with an adrenaline-charged homage to the horror movies and glam metal of the 1980s. Leather Teeth’s exciting “soundtrack without a movie” twist on the slasher film makes for captivating auditory storytelling, but leaves the audience wanting more from its 32-minute runtime—an issue best addressed by starting from the beginning.