Horseback: Half Blood

The new album from North Carolina band Horseback is a deeply provocative and evocative creation, a release that explores and expands into the senses like a dawning idea or emotion. From an initial spark it grows into a consuming and emotive experience which leaves a distinct and pleasurable aftermath to contemplate. Half Blood melds numerous essences of diverse metal styles into a seamless and provoking journey which challenges, mesmerises, and leaves a discerning rapture in its wake.

Horseback is the brainchild of guitarist, vocalist, and producer Jenks Miller, and across previous releases he has shown not only the capability but the imaginative and inspiring skill of bringing as mentioned an array of flavours and styles across the metal genres into creations which leave a lasting and deep impression. Half Blood is no different, its stunning and impressive chapters bringing a maelstrom of drone, psychedelic rock, doom, black metal, post-rock and more into a layered and textured trial for the ear and journey for the emotions. It is not a release that holds your hand from the start and leads you easily into its midst though neither is it cold or hard to climb on board with, but it asks for and requires a continued union and persistent interaction for its full and striking rewards to come forth.

The album is the third release with Relapse Records though the first original album with the previous releases being reissues of Forbidden Planet and the debut Impale Golden Horn. Through these and the acclaimed album The Invisible Mountain, releases with Voltigeurs, Locrian, and Pyramids either as splits or collaborations, plus more, Miller has written unique and impressively skilled sounds and compositions to form a continuing and startling aural vision that involves every one of senses, the mind, and heart. The music is thoughtful and inventive with a passion and emotional embrace which harsh or warm is.

Now I am not going to claim knowledge or understanding of the mythology, hermeticism and western mystical traditions which theme or inspire the music on Half Blood and it is not important as the music finds and gives its own meaning as it engages mentally and emotionally. Half Blood is in the words of Miller “a meditation on hybridity, impurity and evolution”, and that second word is the key, meditation. Throughout its movements of dark and light, with intrusive and caressing opposites side by side, the whole experience is meditative. At times the music scrapes the senses and in others it leads them through a caustic dark into enveloping acidic warmth, but it is never less than mesmeric of hypnotic.

The opening Mithras with its beckoning muscular bass and smiling keys draws one into the album immediately, the seventies progressive guitar and keys forming a groove that lies easily with the dark rasping out of place but firmly linked vocals. The track shimmers and glistens within the ear whilst its darkened pulse and dissident energy prowls behind. This is followed by the excellent drone grooved Ahriman. The song wraps the senses with a wash of warm melodies, Southern rock stoner tones, and infectious guitar manipulations. The track is a heated atmosphere of light though again with a watching dark presence and with a lightened drone quality that is fully hypnotic. The two opening songs are for want of a better term, traditionally structured songs which engage with a captivation and out stretched hand.

      Inheritance (The Changeling) takes the journey into a different direction. The track is a twisting and impactful mesh of church organ, littered sonic violations, and resonating intrusive discord. The track scrapes with a salt in the wound intent whilst locking a mesmeric hold that brings it all into a testing and rewarding sinister event.

Returning to the similarly driven style of the opening songs Ajuna offers a great persistent mix of thoughtful guitar and heavy resonance that continues the great quality offered by the album. It is with the closing three parts under the title of Hallucigenia that the album finds the deepest connection especially the third track. The first two parts Hermetic Gifts and Spiritual Junk open up the senses with sounds and intensity which coaxes the thoughts and emotions into welcoming the slightly draining drone and sure unrelenting meditative wave. As part two enters the drama and intrusion works deeper, but as with its predecessor they are the gateways to the stunning The Emerald Tab. The guitar drone like a bagpipe with a singular note, winds around every aspect of the senses. It verges on painful, leaves one with ringing ears, and takes the emotions through uncertain but decisive feelings, but it is deeply hypnotic. It is a harsh meditation but a cleansing laced with sonic light and reserved melodic additives. It is not a track that will work for all one suspects but as with the album it offers remarkable rewards.

Half Blood is outstanding but does need a concentrated effort to fully appreciate all of its wonders. Miller and Horseback ensure music is not just a brief excursion for the ear but a wholly deep experience.

RingMaster 02/05/2012

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Harpoon – Deception Among Birds

Chicago metalers Harpoon have already garnered strong and high praise with their 2009 debut full length album Double Gnarly /Triple Suicide and the split releases with noise/drone/metal duo, Locrian (2009) and The Muzzler (2010), but with their new release Deception Among Birds the band have moved forward into levels that are staggering and glorious. The album to be released October 25th via Seventh Rule Recordings is a monument to creativity and thoughtful songwriting, as well as an instinctive beast of power, intensity and melodic meanderings. It challenges, leaves a striking mark, and firmly pleasures the senses in equal measure.

The trio of Toney Vast-Binder (vocals), D.J. Barraca (bass), and Dean Costello (guitar, drum programming) have combined to unleash eight tracks of fearsome power and imaginative ingenuity. Crossing through grindcore, hardcore, punk and numerous other spices, Deception Among Birds is a potent and rampant collision on the senses, hitting directly with the intent of shaking up the safety and security of the listener. Engineered by Andy Nelson, who also did their debut album, Deception Among Birds is a maelstrom of ideas and sounds careering around the ears with wanton eagerness and determination to bring something new and distinct.  

The album opens in the same way it ends, with controlled chaos. The blistering opener ‘To The Tall Trees‘ and the senses tripping discordant closer ‘Deception Among Birds‘ both challenge and stretch the boundaries of instant appeal whilst at the same time bringing the strongest essence of addiction within their journeys. Though the two tracks have a similar testing composition the closing song is a sure footed piece of disruptions and diversions blending in many tastes and edges within a forceful intensity and melodic spine. The opener in contrast has a more ordered direction. Starting on a sure hardcore base it soon whirls through varied imposing flavours and wells of sound. With an ascending consumption it reaches a plateau of ominous calm before reaching an eventual atmospheric and beckoning intolerance.

Each track on Deception Among Birds is a remarkable and welcome interloper on the senses, from the semi drone of the harsh and melodic ‘Prequel To A Lifetime Of Disappointment’, through the stalking predatory rampage of ‘Phlegm‘ a track that ebbs and flows in attack without losing a decibel of threatening intensity, to the immense instinctively primal heights of ‘Troglodyte’s Delight’, the album pummels and bashes the pleasure receptors wonderfully. The more the album is played the more the deeper delights reveal themselves which increases the enjoyment each time, the wealth of engaging and formidable elements unveiled for great satisfaction.

Two tracks stand out amongst the array of great songs with an even greater vibrancy to tease and feast on any addictive tendencies. ‘The Cut Of His Jib‘ is a battering burst of licks and incessant riffs with an attack to fire up any hardcore or punk heart. It drives directly and venomously with great static melodic vocals alongside frantic shouts and growls. The other song is ‘Shit Wizard‘, another hardcore/punk flavoured display with a strolling grind groove as a spine. The song is like a lure on a hook and has to be the one to entice the most newcomers to this impressive album.
Deception Among Birds is exceptional and refreshing amidst an abundance of what admittedly have been some great releases this year. This album though has something extra that is not exactly easy to define but there is a sense and air of innovation and freshness to it not heard often elsewhere. From Vast-Binder’s vocals, the impressive and manipulating guitars of Costello, to the bold and dark bass lines of Barraca, the trio have made a release that makes ‘essential listening’ a term tinged with underestimation. Harpoon is back and music has gone up a level.

RingMaster 29/09/2011

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