Review Summary: 1 2 3
"Horse the band has asked me to try to help them make a dying robot, an exploding keyboard, a dream laugh and a melted, drastic flute of redemption. Lucky for you and for me they have the wit and creativity to turn these things into music.”
HORSE the Band, fresh off their 2008 self-funded world tour, was a changed band. In losing both their drummer Chris Prophet before said tour and bassist Dashiel Arkenstone afterwards, a change of sound was to be expected despite the core of Nathan Winneke, David Isen and Erik Engstrom remaining. HORSE’s previous efforts featured an incredibly fun combination of metalcore with keyboards played through an 8-bit filter and Winneke’s off-beat sense of humour driving the vocal section. While there was certainly a noticeably more serious tone on their 2007 album A Natural Death, it wasn’t until 2009 that HORSE realized they had the potential to release a truly great album.
When opening track Cloudwalker kicks off, it isn’t immediately apparent that this is a huge change of direction. And for the most part, it isn’t. Desperate Living is simply a refinement and perfection of everything that HORSE has worked on in the past. First and foremost, the songwriting. Cloudwalker is all over the place musically for it’s first half, switching between frantic metalcore sections and soft, ambient keyboard-driven passages with much more calm spoken-word vocals contrasting Winneke’s drastically improved harsh vocals. The second half of the song sees a great combination of these two elements, featuring some of the strongest vocal work and lyrics provided by Winneke in HORSE’s entire discography.
Every song on Desperate Living, for the most part, showcases HORSE’s improved songwriting, especially in the album’s strongest songs Shapeshift and Rape Escape. The former features beautiful guest vocals by Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart in the song’s climax, backed by one of the most memorable keyboard melodies Engstrom has ever written, along with an odd but entirely enjoyable duet with Winneke’s vocals. Rape Escape on the other hand features the most out of left field piece of music on the album: a classical piano solo, courtesy of pianist Valentina Lisita. The rest of the song delivers on all fronts, with an ambient keyboard section setting the mood which soon becomes shattered by an energetic and intense metal section, featuring arguably the strongest bass and drum work on the album. HORSE also take time to showcase their electronic influence on this song, with a fantastic keyboard melody backed by a pulsating electronic bass beat followed by some more great ambient keyboard and guitar work, leading up to the song’s climax and breakdown, featuring one of the most intense piano solos you’ll ever hear on a metalcore album.
Despite the heavy inclusion of ambient keyboard sections and tightened up vocals/lyrics, HORSE still show that they haven’t lost their off-beat sense of humour and fun side throughout the album, with songs about the band’s vegan paramedic Buddhist straight-edge pimp friend Ed Edge, science cops and Lord Gold’s penis, samples taken from the TV show Xavier: Renegade Angel, as well as the first half of closing track Arrive being written around a simple keyboard melody Engstrom wrote for an old Youtube video series entitled Lawrence and Friends. Arrive soon after shifts into some of the most enjoyable metalcore sections on the entire album, leading up to the incredible keyboard and guitar driven climax backed by the gang-chanted shout of “ARRIVE!!!”
HORSE proved to fans and doubters that they should be taken completely seriously with their final(?) release Desperate Living, improving on their songwriting, production, lyrics, vocals, and instrumental playing tenfold, while still providing an incredibly fun and entertaining metalcore album. An absolute metalcore essential.
H The B.