Review Summary: Smoke and mirrors.
Typically, French psychedelic folk duo Natural Snow Buildings embrace drone methodology, creating long, hypnotic epics. With Terror’s Horns
, the briefer runtimes combined with odd structural choices make it anticlimactic and ineffective. Allegedly inspired by backwater folklore (going off of the cover art, here), NSB’s newest rarely evokes feelings of fear, confusion, despair, or anything as potentially interesting as the context itself. Much of the content early on creates a sense of anticipation, and little else. “Saturn as Black Belt” grimly awaits a savage gunfight; “Twilight Bells” conveys a sense of dawning; “King in Yellow” is suspended on a tightrope. These songs are all premeditative. In a way, it’s very Blair Witch Project
-y (side note: 2006’s The Dance of the Moon and the Sun
references the movie in the tracklist). With the film, much of the appeal was in what didn’t happen, leaving it in the hands of your imagination. With Terror’s Horns
, the appeal is often in what you wish you were about to hear. While some tracks are interesting in their own right, stacked atop one another they create a frustrating, blue-balling story arch. For a group so gifted in patiently developing rich, detailed atmospheres, it’s disappointing to see so few ideas on display. This is remedied slightly by the instrumentation, as members Solange Gularte and Mehdi Ameziane are experts of their craft. Every tremolo guitar line, every war horn, every drone sounds
the part; but, when the album itself is so slow-to-the-punch, all these nuances feel like mere bells and whistles.
Fortunately, “Sun Tower” breaks the chain of ominous dead ends. Gularte’s vocals, though criminally under-utilized as per the rest of Terror’s Horns
, are a highlight here. When she subsides, the tracks breaks into a ghoulish call to arms, as though every soldier is wading through waist-deep muck. When the march ceases, it segues rather awkwardly into post-rock relaxant “The Rising Portal”. The title implies a gateway, with the bittersweetness of a departure slowly overwhelmed by the prospect of change. It’s lovely, effortlessly-flowing couch music, and the de facto standout. Closer “Orion Is Dead” should be bone-chilling, with Gularte delivering trembly, somber words of remorse and forewarning; however, with so much of Terror’s Horns
feeling like bootless, quick-succession meditation, it’s hard to feel invested. For those seeking a quick entry point for NSB, the forty-five-minute runtime might look welcoming (compared to their multiple-hour sagas); for listeners privy to Natural Snow Buildings' true magic, Terror’s Horns
, by comparison, provides little more than snake oil and parlour tricks.