Erotic Secrets of Pompeii are not your average band. Entering their world is like signing up to join the circus and finding yourself in a Guillermo Del Toro film. It’s a world of grotesques and freaks, magick (sic) and mayhem and their new album, Mondo Maleficum, is an absolute blast from start to finish.

The Bristol band set their stall out early with first track, Osiris at the Large Hadron Collider. A stabbing, staccato guitar riff over a kick drum soon gives way to a propulsive rhythm over which singer Thomas Hawtin intones “I see myself reflected in the bodies of the massacre, they didn’t stand a chance against the weapons automatic” in a rich baritone reminiscent of Nick Cave at his most playful. The song imagines Osiris, the Egyptian Lord of The Underworld, confronting the pinnacle of man’s technological achievements, pitting mythology against modernity, in a battle in which we’re all found wanting. 

The whole record is stacked full of this kind of vivid imagery and darkly poetic lyrics. “Unsanitary sisters in volatile dress meet their deloused spouses with calculated breath. They fat themselves for maggots, slow death on a spoon, behold a hundred million moths heading for the moon” (from “The Wheel, the Spade, the Stars in Motion”) is one example among many. The overall effect is by turns macabre, surreal and blackly comic. 

Musically, we’re talking angular art rock in the vein of Gang of Four or Talking Heads, maybe a hyperactive Magazine, allied to elements of synth pop. It’s a joyous collision of post-punk sounds when that meant anything goes rather than simply we-sound-a-bit-like-Interpol. There’s a ton of sounds – synth bloops and other-worldly whirrs, guitar stabs and percussive rattles – that happen once and only once, an attitude that’s less “here’s an idea, let’s beat it to a pulp” and more “here’s an idea and here’s another one.” It makes the whole thing a rich and rewarding listen and means there’s something new to notice every time – the sign of a great record, right? 

Auguries and Auguries has the feel of Swordfishtrombones era Tom Waits with it’s half spoken, sometimes whispered, storytelling and reverb heavy guitar twang. Venus Ascending, meanwhile, is a beautiful and haunting piano led piece that draws comparisons with Nick Cave.  And at the end of Utterly Rudderless, a song about the attraction of conspiracy theories in an uncertain world, when Hawtin sing-speaks “ahhh gotta get my colour television” he reminds me of no-one so much as Mark E Smith, the master of absurdist lyrics over angular art rock.   

Indeed, as with those artists there’s the feel here of a cult band in the making, or at least a band making their own cult. The artwork, lyrics, videos and live show all have a shared aesthetic that gives them a singular identity the way bands like The Cramps, Devo, Kiss even, all managed in the past. I can see ESOP building themselves a similarly devoted following and the fact that the vinyl pressing of Mondo Maleficum was crowdfunded is testament to that. They already have a deserved reputation as a spectacular live band (really do go and see them if they pass your way – you will not be disappointed) and have now produced an album that lives up to that in every way.

In their own words:

Sleeping time is over – the carnival’s begun.

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