Review Summary: Radio, radio... can you hear my swan song?
Based on an apparent lack of exposure and a career almost devoid of financial success, HORSE the Band, and this album in particular, are a machine misunderstood; and that's a shame. Sure, calling yourself nintendocore (and later rebuking it) and writing songs full of korg synth lines and NES soundbytes isn't going to have many people taking you seriously. And honestly, that's not an entirely bad thing, but it certainly can give reason for a quick dismissal from those not willing to give your product the time of day. But, behind the quirky facade of 8-bit bleeps and bloops, silly song titles and personas, and the ridiculous album cover (which you know rules), there lies the aptly titled Desperate Living; an inimitable post-hardcore/metalcore masterpiece drenched in self-loathing that exists as an almost obvious coping mechanism for the members of the band.
HORSE's songwriting is at an absolute peak here; exceeding A Natural Death by far, a mere two years later. We see the band hopping from blistering verses and breakdowns to dance party synth lines and back again without ever feeling jarring. Erik Engstrom's performance on keyboard easily ranks among the most impressive in metal. The band's ability to seamlessly integrate Lord Gold's remarkably distinct and wonky keys consistently throughout the album is a wonder on its own, but even more impressive is how those tones almost offset the desperate wails of Nathan. The guy is having a complete nervous breakdown with bright passages of stuttering beeps serving as a backdrop- and it works perfectly. Tracks like Golden Mummy Golden Bird and Arrive should make bands like Between the Buried and Me embarrassed for taking themselves so seriously, as blending different sounds can seemingly work so easily when you're not trying so hard to flex you genre palate. Conversely, The Failure of All Things, HORSE the Song, and Big Business give a nice nod to the HORSE faithful, while managing to put on an original core songwriting clinic to which no one is paying any attention. I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that I put Desperate Living right alongside The Always Open Mouth, Relationship of Command, The Opposite of December, or even You Fail Me. The album is that good.
Sure, silly tracks like Science Police and Lord Gold Wand of Unyielding stick out a bit among the more 'serious' songs, but that's just what HORSE do; they make the best of a bad situation by at least trying to make you smile when they know that you know that they know that life is a bitch. Even if their goofy, misunderstood nintendocore was probably never going to take them anywhere, and even if they had to book their own world tour (yeah, that really happened), or if they have to come down from this only to work crappy day jobs for the rest of their lives, at least with this album they can be proud to say they made something all their own. If you look close enough, you'll find a band worth rooting for and songs worth hearing again and again- and that's not only special, but an achievement the band should never overlook even if almost everyone else does.