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.