Horseback – Half Blood

So I’m back from my hiatus to find my fellow Metal Blast-ers have had kind of a time of it. Jon had the dubious honor of reviewing the new Torn The Fuck Apart record; their inadequacy has brought shame upon my state (and my dojo). Meanwhile, I thought Sam would have a ball typing up a few hundred words on how awesome Dopesmoker is, but his review got co-opted by his mom, who doesn’t understand how come we gotta listen to incredibly long songs and hella heavy riffs. Typical, right? So I’m easing back into the swing of things with something that actually promises to be pretty good: the new record from North Carolina’s Horseback.

I’ve heard a fair amount of buzz surrounding this band and its mixture of styles; I think I saw an ad for Half Blood that said it sounded like Isis locked in a room with Merzbow, or something along those lines. Upon actually making contact with the music, I found the comparison held up fairly well; there’s the hum of lightly distorted guitars and organs found in later-day Isis, and the three-part “Hallucigenia” suite that closes the album certainly calls to mind that well-known Japanese noise artist. Comparing this to other bands directly kind of misses the point, though; what stuck out to me was that this is music that’s comfortable in its own skin. The muffled screeches over the sprawling “Mithras” sound jarring at first, but on another go around it’s hard to imagine any other vocal style paired with this music. “Ahriman” sounds like it’s one awesome distortion pedal away from being the doom metal anthem of 2012; did every experimental metal outfit from the south decide to stop using distortion this year or something? Whatever; as it is it sits well when put next to other modern southern metal, ala Kylesa or Baroness.

Track 3, “Inheritance (The Changeling)”, is where things get weird, in an awesome way. An intro of chimes, organ, electronic bloops and other strange sounds swell up into guitar feedback, tom slams and what sounds like detuned radios before giving way to a soft piano melody. Hell yes, son! This is what I’m about. To be fair, though, it is really evocative of Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts project, and I’m a massive nerd for everything Trent Reznor does so your mileage may vary. It’s a pretty kickin’ little noise-drone piece as is, though. (I say little, but it’s like 7 minutes long…you know what I mean.)

We’re back into it with “Arjuna”, which is similar to the first two tracks, but with a couple of other neat elements-a wah-ed out guitar solo and a clean/dirty vocal interlude. This is the only place clean vocals appear on the album; I gotta say, it makes for a neat effect in the way it’s used on this song, but the actual vocals themselves leave something to be desired. It occurs to me that this is a fairly common complaint in my reviews-so be it. Metal bands of the world, if you’re gonna put clean vocals on your album, make sure they’re worth a damn. It’s not so offensive here, because the Horseback dudes only used it once and as a layer over the traditional harsh vocals, but there’s still room for improvement.

The “Hallucigenia” trilogy mentioned previously brings the record to a sufficiently psychedelic close. Stretching past the 20-minute mark, this suite of songs demonstrates Horseback at their strongest-when they’re making tripped-out, vacuous drones. After leaving you floating in the void for a few minutes, part 2 (subtitled “Spiritual Junk”) introduces a drum rhythm that coalesces into the twelve-minute part 3 and its maelstrom of madness. The Baroness-isms this album employs are competently done, but the bizarre noise half is out-and-out engaging. If that’s your thing you’ll certainly enjoy what you find here.

Half Blood delivers on its promise of varying styles, and while it performs better in some departments than others, it delivers a satisfying package overall. Fans of southern sludge and noise alike get a cool new record, and I get an easy week back. Seems like a win-win situation to me.