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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

OxFolk Reviews: Faustus – Death and other Animals

Ben Ray looks at the UK folk three-piece's latest release

“Men of England, you are slaves!” There aren’t many folk albums that open with such a resounding, powerful voice—but then Faustus aren’t the average group. This trio, formed of Benji Kirkpatrick, Paul Sartin and Saul Rose, is a bold voice on the traditional music scene—and their skill and ingenuity shine through in their latest album Death and other Animals.

Faustus’ wide range of experience is testament to their ability to push the boundaries of folk music: with various members of the group having performed in groups such as Bellowhead, Whapweazel and Belshazzar’s Feast, it is no wonder Faustus’ music shows an accomplished, sharp edge that adapts each traditional song to fit their own indomitable style.

Death and other Animals continues Faustus’ tradition of approaching traditional music from new, exciting angles, breathing fresh life into everything from 20th century American ballads to Chartist parodies of Shelley’s poetry, making it twist and dance in fascinating ways.

Having been made 2016 Artists in Residence for Halsway Manor, the National Centre for Folk Arts, the band were given huge scope and access to previously unknown material— including, tantalisingly, “a filing cabinet in the staff room… comprising the archive of folklorist Ruth Tongue.”

The combination of this treasure trove of music and Faustus’ loud, exuberant style makes for a stunning collection of tunes, each track telling a different story woven into the artists’ blistering music. The wistful lyrics of ‘One More Day’, a song sung by retired mariner and shanty man John Short in 1914, are here energised with Kirkpatrick’s searing mandolin riff and Sartin’s soaring fiddle, all driven along at breakneck speed by Rose’s melodeon, creating a tune so powerful the listener is almost pushed back in their seat. This is then immediately juxtaposed with the gentle tones of ‘The Death of the Hart Royal’, with the soft voices of Sartin and Rose effortlessly blending to bring this slow, sad 15th century eulogy to life.

On first hearing this album, I was initially surprised at the enveloping blanket of sound Faustus manage to create on each track: although only being a trio, they manage to boast an astonishing array of instruments. Bouzouki, melodeons, oboe, even a cor englais—all these allow the group to give each song a unique feel. However, there is also a sense of immense respect for the songs themselves, with each story given time to emerge at their own pace alongside Faustus’ skilled musicianship. As song after song surprise and entertain, it is clear Faustus are never content with covering the same ground twice, and are ingenious at approaching old songs with new ideas—making Death and other Animals an absorbing and fascinating listen.

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