Review Summary: HORSE the bland
HORSE the band - A Natural Death
Fire photons, ptew ptew; HORSE the band are back with a new album. This means:
-Alternative Press taking the term "nintendocore" for realsies
-Animals appearing in lyrics
-Sick minimal budget music videos
-Alternative Press noticing that HORSE the band is "mathier"
A Natural Death
delivers on all of those bullet points, in fact, more so than any of their other albums. There is something off about this release though. I first noticed it with the almost gauche inclusion of the Kangarooster in a song title ("Kangarooster 4057" don't count). Usually Nathan keeps him stabled in his den, and he only elicits lols via the internet. However, A Natural Death
features a HORSE the band that is willing to sacrifice their good taste (yes, I'm being serious) for the sake of churning out more nintendocore facemelters, which leads to mediocrity, excepting a few sparks of inspiration.
From a statistical point of view, A Natural Death
is probably a technical leap for HORSE the band. Their previous two albums tossed around some asymmetric time signatures and some cool guitar riffs, but the shredding on A Natural Death
is unprecedented. The combination of both Dash and Chris joining the core crew of Nathan, Dave, and Erik, expands horizons on this album. The bass is pretty unstoppable, gulping up the low end in the background. The extra business is appreciated, though the bass feels mixed down a lot of the time, rendering the new playfulness sorta nugatory. The drumming too seems to be a step above typical releases, but isn't particularly creative, and seems to just be eating off the plate of previous HORSE releases, mixing upbeat dance rhythms with punk double time gallops and off-kilter mathy stuff. The playing is better but the results are somewhat similar. In terms of the core 3, I'm sort of unimpressed. Nathan's vocals seem a little....refined? They still have their crudeness but aren't as showstopping and entertaining as on previous releases. The vocals on "Crickets," which should be an exhibition of spoken word gone slapstick, is sort of flat. Tracks like "His Purple Majesty" have too much distortion at times, leading to a distracting vocal performance, versus an engaging one. And speaking of distracting, "Kangarooster Meadows" hardly taps into the goofiness of the vocal eccentricities of the Pizza EP
. The guitar is improved a bit. I dig the riffing on this album a lot, but I wonder if it could be catchier. Same with the keyboard; in theory, everything should be slightly better, but I'm at a loss at why the parts aren't as fun or memorable. There's no breakdown from "Seven Tentacles, Eight Flames" on this album. There's no 1:37 interlude from "A Rusty Glove" on A Natural Death
. There's no rocknroll hammer and pull-off riffing like from "Birdo."
And it's this lack of memorability that plagues this album. Excepting the really well-written "Face of Bear," the protruding dance track, "Sex Raptor," the catchy "The Startling Secret of Super Sapphire" and the epic "I Think We Are Both Suffering from the Same Crushing Metaphysical Crisis," this album doesn't have any standout songs. There are memorable oddities like the vocals on "Kangarooster Meadows" and the bitter western sounds of the animal songs "Crow Town" and "Rotting Horse," but in terms of great songs, this album is barren. For all of the mediocre tracks though, like "Treasure Train," there are interesting diversions like the fun but slow "Murder." In the end the quality of songs, even taking into consideration the conceptual aspect of the album, sorta yields a middle of the road collection of songs. On previous HORSE the band albums you'll have songs like "Birdo" or "Hansome Shoved His Glove" that are fun and engaging for their entirety, but here, it's just not happening.
I think a lot of the problems on A Natural Death
stem from the lack of taste I mentioned earlier. All of the ingredients are there, but the band seems bogged down by a newfound technical proficiency and the weightiness of producing a complete work under the pretext of creating a concept album. In the days when HORSE the band didn't mind throwing around power metal harmonies underneath bouncing keyboard melodies, every track was fun as hell. Here, there's an angularity, almost professionalism, to the design that straight up diminishes the appeal of HORSE the band. A band that managed to be a successful metalcore band while not taking themselves seriously, writing songs in major keys, dressing normally, etc., is now getting a little too refined for their own good. I liken A Natural Death
to Snakes on a Plane
; it knows it's working with a funny / ironic aesthetic and that self-awareness turns against the appeal of the premise. Producers reinserted Samuel Jackson dropping some more "motherfuc
ker"s into the movie because meme kids reading digg.com thought it'd be awesome. HORSE the band also knows they have carved out a niche and an audience and are pushing their style a little too hard and a little too obviously throughout A Natural Death
. I could hardly imagine this effect is intentional, but it sure is present. It's tough to say this about a band that has produced two killer and shockingly original LPs, but, they've beaten themselves.
At the same time that I'm bashing the album though, I'm still bouncing my jaded little head to most of it. Just because it's not as good as previous releases, doesn't mean it's bad. HORSE the band will always be fun, but have not brought their A game to A Natural Death
. Maybe touring with Dragonforce made them realize how fun their own music actually is and they needed to pull the rug up from under themselves. Either way, I recommend this album with reservations. There are lols to be had, but they are inferior to those of previous releases. Man, I still like this a lot, but it's like getting drunk and hooking up with a 5. Why not swing a threesome with a 9 named The Mechanical Hand
and an 8 named R. Borlax
instead? Oh ya, wait, I'm drunk.
Recommended Tracks: Face of Bear, New York City, The Startling Secret of Super Sapphire, I Think We're Both Suffering From the Same Crushing Metaphysical Crisis