Americana meets drone meets noise meets…
North Carolina’s Horseback are a bit of a weird one. While they are frequently lumped into the greater metal genre (and, I guess by writing this review I’m continuing the trend), the truth is that they really have very little to do with metal at all these days – the raspy, black metal vocals of Jenks Miller notwithstanding. If I had to draw comparisons I’d be on pretty safe ground relating their Americana folk twang meets drone meets horror soundtrack to drone in the vein of latter day Earth (Hex or The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull) than anything even remotely “metal” in the traditional (or abstract) sense of the word. That being said, however, whatever links people may wish to draw between the band and metal are largely irrelevant outside of the realm of our own desires to categorise and it is the music itself that is important and, in the case of Half Blood, it is really very good.
The first couple of tracks on Half Blood continue along a similar path to that of their debut album, The Invisible Mountain (and, presumably their sophomore album which I never heard), with plenty of simple, digestible riffs that channel the Americana vibe brilliantly and bring to mind the wandering and yearning of a tale like Kerouac’s On the Road (as pompous as that may sound). The melding of this twangy, roots inspired music with black metal vocals is just as strange as it was when I first heard Horseback do it on their debut but, somehow, the two disparate styles merge together rather well in a way that, had you never heard the band do it, would seem improbable at best.
Where Half Blood gets really interesting for me, however, is at its turning point around the middle of the album (though it is actually hinted at earlier on the third track, Inheritance (The Changeling)). The second half of the disc sees the band shift their focus towards droning harmonies and noise-rock with the real highlight being the closing number, Hallucigenia, which is split across three individual tracks and runs the gamut from psychedelic rock in part one, to an ambient soundtrack meets noise rock in part two, before culminating in a pulsing drone piece with delicately played keyboard accompaniment in its final instalment. The textures are rich, the atmosphere is dense, and the captivating nature of the material overall is undeniable.
With their dense and varied musical influences and a somewhat unpredictable nature, Horseback are a very tough band to write about, let alone objectively proffer to whomever reads what little it is that I can muster in the way of digital ink on a page. Suffice it to say though, if interesting and experimental music is your thing and you have never heard Horseback before, now is definitely the time to start because Half Blood represents the clearest vision of their sound so far. If you are already a convert to these oddballs, then you will be fully aware of the quality of which I speak and require no further encouragement from me.
(Relapse Records/Riot! Entertainment)