Review Summary: HORSE turn down the fun and embrace the more serious side of things.
With HORSE the Band’s third album, “A Natural Death,” HORSE found themselves in a Cornelian dilemma. They could either choose to go down the course of their past albums, with the same emphasis (huge emphasis) on the 8-bit keyboards, or they could go down another path, the take a more serious tone with their album and drop their well-known 8-bit madness. The first option would be the safe way to go, keeping along with what they’ve been releasing, without any complaints from their fan base other than someone saying, “They’ve done this for a couple albums now, this is starting to get old.” With the latter option, they could go down a different route, trying out different styles of music but possibly alienating a good portion of their fan base.
HORSE chose the latter option, dropping most of their 8-bit sound (and sadly with it, some of their fun), and adopting a more serious tone. Instead of going through how they’ve changed for this album, I’ve found it much better to post a breakdown in a simple list:
- Yes, they have adopted a more serious tone
- There is a lot less of an ‘8-bit’ sound, but you’ll hear a familiar MIDI every now and then.
- Everyone in the band has stepped up their playing game
- HORSE has found a love for Interludes
- Nathan does a lot more clean singing on this album, while restraining on his screams.
Most of these points become obvious within the first track, “Hyperborea.” Although not even close to the best track on the album, with a rather awkward keyboard/guitar interplay, HORSE gets their point across, it’s not all jokes anymore. Not to say the fun is all dead though, not even close to dead. With tracks such as “Sex Raptor,” a track which is a HORSE version of an 80s dance hit, “Kangarooster Meadows,” which a track in its own is too strange to describe (the vocals should give you a good chuckle though) and “Face a Bear,” which from the title you should get the point of the song, about feeding a bear, with the consequences of such an action being fighting a bear face to face, a very scary situation. HORSE also improves their songwriting on the album, including more of their prog-rock and jazz influences, while keeping the catchy factor of their songs. “New York City” shows this after the first set of clean lines, the song breaks down into a short prog-rock influenced jam, and songs such as “I Think We Are Suffering…” also include prog-rock style sections in them.
The album really kicks into gear with the second track, “Murder,” a song about an Indian going around scalping people. Within the first minute of the song, the members of HORSE are showing off their chops, with everyone in the band scaling their fret board/keyboard as Nathan screams at the top of his lungs “She’s already dead!” With this track, you’re also introduced to what will be the drumming for the rest of the album, a mix of hardcore drumming and up-beat dance rhythms, with a little bit of off-beat math rock style fills and crashes (“The Startling Secret of Super Sapphire”). The bass playing on this album has stepped up quite a bit from their previous release “The Mechanical Hand,” with a lot more technical playing presented every time you hear the bass through the speakers. You could say that the guitar playing has increased in technicality (the tremolo picking on “I Think We Are Suffering from the Same Metaphysical Crisis), but with faster and quicker riffing, there is a big decrease in the hammer-and-pulling riffing. The keyboards have pretty much stayed the same since the last album, with a lot of technicality being involved, but it’s not masked under the ‘8-bit’ sound they’ve always used.
The biggest change from anything that HORSE has ever done from any other album is the inclusion of interludes and clean singing. With two interlude tracks, “Broken Trail” and “Rotting Horse,” HORSE experiment with some different ideas even if they may be too long; “Broken Trail” includes a deep bass line with a huge amount of fuzz being looped with organs being repeating over it. It definitely sets an incredibly eerie tone with the fuzzy bass and the creepy organs, but it just happens to drag on too long being 3 minutes and 16 seconds long. Same goes for “Rotting Horse,” a guitar line that grows gradually and brings through its 4 minute 28 second life span, growing with every instrument repeating the line into a gradual fade. It again establishes a serious, eerie tone, but just goes on for too long. For HORSE’s first try at interludes, they definitely gave it a good shot and should improve on the concept in future albums. Another new thing HORSE tries is the minor inclusion of Nathan’s clean singing, most notably in the first single of the album, “New York City.” Even under all his screams, he proves that he has a decent, to pretty damn good clean voice.
I'll come to you
Over clandestine sidewalks
I'll come to you
Crashing through dead leaves
If there is anything that plagues this album, it would the inclusion of useless tracks, to tracks 10 through 13 feeling notably out of place. Two tracks, “The Beach” and “Crickets” feel as if they had to be inside jokes that only the band would get, because there is honestly no reason for their placement, or even for their existence on the album. They both include something random, a woman crying, or crickets, which awkwardly leads into the next track, often taking away from the intro of the following track. Tracks 10 through 13 also have a feeling as if they’re the oddballs of the pack, feeling like nothing else on the album, but not in the good way. “The Red Tornado” is in the end such a bland track in itself, not really adding anything else to the table of new ideas HORSE has set up with this album. “Treasure Train” itself could be seen as a good track, but the overuse of samples, although very well done, get annoying by the time the song is over.
This all leads to the magnum opus of the album, maybe even of HORSE’s entire discography, “I Believe We Are Both Suffering From the Same Metaphysical Crisis.” Starting off with a crazy keyboard line where keyboardist Erik Engstorm flies up and down the ivories with a heavy backup from the rest of the instruments. The track builds up and up to a clean section featuring an array of MIDI noises, which itself leads into the first climax of the song, with a hugely impressive performance of tremolo picking from David Isen. This follows into a clean, prog-rock section with an impressive toned down guitar solo and bass lines, building into a small climax of keyboards, guitar and everything else.
If you can accept this album for what it is, HORSE trying to explore new territory and a more serious tone, you will be able to grasp onto this album a lot better and appreciate the newer material they are trying. The riffs are still as good as ever, the keyboards are still as impressive as ever, and Nathan’s voice still shreds as much as any other time. Forgetting this albums flaws, such as some of the incredibly annoying tracks, and tracks closer to the end of the album, HORSE has put forth a fine effort with “A Natural Death.” The last track Lif loops into the first track Hyperborea, so you can essentially play this album forever in a giant loop, representing the never-ending cycle of life and death.