Review Summary: Dustbowl black metal meets Old West ambient.
The desolate winter-worn lands of Norway are crawling with corpsepainted raspers, spiked and Satanic and set to wheeze through their teeth about ice and ***. If the dusty, clinky-booted folk of the barren American west had had a similar thought back ye olde days of the vaquero, they sound mighty similar to Horseback.
The North Carolina project (mainly the product of a man called Jenks Miller) released debut The Invisible Mountain
in '09, a record that matched bluesy Neurosistoned riffs with gravelly black metal rasps. The concept was intriguing less because of its originality and more out of sheer shock at how well its gears turned. To the imagination, burly buffalo songs don't accompany well high shrieky teeth-gnashing, but to Jenks Miller & Co., something caught.
…and jerked loose. Horseback's sophomore effort Half Blood
somehow fell into the tar pit its predecessor cleanly sidestepped, losing some of its fuzz and black metal demeanor. The dustbowl black metal plods along directionless, about as invigorating as dysentery. The arid Native American feel is rampant, and the vocals cease to keep up. The black metal screams and weedy Americana scrape against each other without much traction, just spinning and grinding in the dirt. Even the spoken word at the end of "Arjuna" is off-throwing, like a member of The Wiggles teaching a toddler the words. In all honesty the best approach would be to have made Half Blood
instrumental, leaving the head-bobbingly repetitive riffs bumping along unhindered, but doing so would effectively destroy the band's defining gimmick.
Luckily, Horseback have a redeeming quality: the instrumentals. Half Blood
is split roughly 70/30 dark droning ambient to bluesy screechy. "Inheritance (The Changeling)" is miles ahead of "Mithras" or "Ahriman" in quality, a hypnotic maelstrom of sounds from buzzing drone to clattering tribal rattles and melody-less flute. It swells to a deep-South Gospel crescendo that collapses into filthy, grinding industrial drone. Another shift brings "Inheritance" out of the depths with simple Eluvium
-esque Sunday afternoon piano and tweaky static. Like "Inheritance," Half Blood
's closing "Hallucinogenia" triptych showcases the band's compositional and sound-manipulating strengths. "Hallucinogenia I: Hermetic Gifts" is straightforward ambient, tense but warm tones that eventually are broken through by eerie Gollum mumblings, while "Hallucinogenia II: Spiritual Junk" is darker, ascending from echoing cracking sounds and deep, sub-bass Greg Anderson rumbles to a slow, fuzz-laden post-rock set by (what else?) jingle bells. "Hallucinogenia III: The Emerald Tablet" reflect this, with wobbling tones and wooden keyboard, possibly marimba.
While a bit inferior to The Invisible Mountain
, Half Blood
definitely shows a bit of evolution of a band who are determined to make their one-trick pony versatile. Putting the Isis
-aping on the backburner while maintaining a certain buzz and reverb, static and warm bass, Miller has taken Horseback in a new and rather intriguing direction, one that intertwines Old West-era steampunk with ritualistic Native Americana, and not fearing to insert all the bell-tones and chimes.