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Trepalium - Dambala Voodoo Doll artwork . Voodoo Moonshine artwork

Damballa’s Voodoo Doll

9th February 2015 – Self-released

01. Moonshine Limbo
02. Damballa’s Voodoo Ball
03. Possessed by the Nightlife
04. Guede Juice
05. Fire on Skin
06. Blowjob on the Rocks

Sometimes, a record can be so evocative of an atmosphere that it all but transports you there – and so it is with Trepalium‘s Damballa’s Voodoo Doll EP. With the right kind of ears, it whisks the listener away to a basement bar in a forgotten alley in New Orleans, with sawdust on the floor, smoke hanging thickly in the air, and locals who don’t stop dancing when someone gets a broken bottle buried in their neck for spilling a drink. Dangerous.

But let’s back up a bit: French quintet Trepalium have been gradually honing their craft since the turn of the millennium, releasing no fewer than four albums of what they call ‘groovy death metal’. However, with this latest release the band have taken a considerable step forwards, making the jazz influences that have been hinted at in their previous releases rather more overt.

Rob Zombie might have gotten to the Hellbilly Deluxe name first, but Trepalium’s sonic mixture is probably a better fit and is built on broadly the same 90s groove metal skeleton. Naturally, Diablo Swing Orchestra are a ready comparison, but other touchstones would be Dog Fashion Disco, Mr Bungle, The Cherry Poppin Daddies and Belgian big band mentalists Flat Earth Society.

The results are as immediately intoxicating as, well, Voodoo Moonshine. Indeed, the EP has already seen a French release under that very name in late 2014. However, an unspecified eleventh hour legal challenge has resulted in Trepalium changing its name to that of its second track. Whilst not necessarily an issue for new fans, existing fans might need to ensure they’re not buying the same EP twice.

With only six tracks to play with, Trepalium don’t mess about. Lead single “Moonshine Limbo” comes out swinging, in every sense of the word. The liberal use of traditional jazz instruments sometimes make it difficult to work out where the guitars end and the saxophones begin, but they join forces with the hypnotic, tom-heavy percussion with seductive effect. The occasional addition of some barreling piano adds another layer of authenticity to the swaggering horns. Throughout, Damballa’s Voodoo Doll is packed to the rafters with snake-hipped grooves that simply can’t fail to set toes a-tapping, at the very least.

Above it all, vocalist KK looms like an almost shamanic presence, drawing the listener ever deeper into this shadowy underworld with his barked lyrics and borderline demented scatting.

However, these songs never stray far from the template laid down so effectively by “Moonshine Limbo“, so it is possible that the novelty might have worn off had Trepalium stretched the material out to a full-length release. But hopefully as they embrace this direction more completely, they will discover new ways to introduce some variety to the proceedings.

That does not detract from how well-realised their vision is, how outrageously catchy the songs are and how much fun they are to listen to. It’s not hard to imagine that this enjoyment would only be heightened by watching Trepalium perform them live. We imagine that sheer practicality will result in the additional orchestration being provided by backing tracks for the time being, but remain convinced that a show with a full brass section would be a particularly impressive spectacle, should that ever come to pass. Here’s hoping.