Horseback is here. The new album is titled Half Blood and it has become an obsession with me. Half Blood is one of those rare records that surprised me, that took me from a side of my brain I wasn’t expecting it to. This is a record not all people will understand, it’s an album that defies genre. Half Blood takes the understood rules of doom and destroys them. Think of Horseback like Conan The Barbarian coming into the town of heavy music and laying waste to sloth and boredom.
Half Blood sets you up to think that Horseback is just redefining how to approach doom. It’s a genius set up because the tracks are so wonderful. Half Blood opens with “Mithras”, a song that gave me an image of a dying man listing his regrets as darkness envelopes him. The guitar line is stunning. It combines melancholy and isolation and beams those emotions through each sour and bitter note.
“Ahirman” introduces a tense and dirty groove. Sit somewhere you feel comfortable and smoke as much weed as you can. Then turn out all the lights except for twinkling Christmas ones strung up just above eye level. Stare into those lights and try to comprehend the end of the universe. After an hour you will understand what “Ahirman” sounds like. I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the vocals for Horseback. They are unlike any doom vocals I’ve ever heard. It’s a growl sure, but one that sounds outside the music. It’s as if a demon was captured and somebody slipped a hidden microphone into the cell to record the demon’s private musings. There’s an air of enigma to them.
“Inheritance (The Changeling)” is where Horseback gets you. This is a pure ambient noise track. One droning sound caressed by other noises. It continues rolling through a dense sound highway until feedback rings in and a garbled voice speaks to you in dulcet tones. This isn’t doom anymore; it’s just creepy and unsettling. Then comes “Arjuna”, another epic slow jam. Now you’re off balance. Now you’re exactly where Horseback wants you.
Halluciengia I-III is the last half of the album. This is where people will either embrace what the band are doing or shut Half Blood off with ignorant disgust. For twenty-two minutes, chopped into the three sections, you are given a gorgeous ambient background laden with demon vocals and quiet storms of delicate noise. Discussing what happens in the individual sections is akin to explaining love to washing machine, it’s pointless. You don’t talk about the Halluciengia trilogy; you just allow it to flow over you. If you can get past your own limited ideas, this trilogy will lift you up and carry you away.
Half Blood is a doom record the way Neurosis is a metal band. That is to say, those bereft of imagination will be quick to label the albums down tuning and groove as doom. Those people will be missing the point. Horseback is creating shelters here, lean-tos and igloos against the raging storm of mediocrity. Crawl inside this shelter won’t you? Half Blood, as heavy as it is, is an album dealing with feelings. It lifts you from your feeble existence and delivers you into a better world. Desperation, isolation, sadness, self-doubt, regret, and a love of expanding your mind through chemistry, if you haven’t experience these things or you’re too stupid to get over genre classification then Half Blood is not the album for you. Everybody else? Holy shit, dig in and hang on.
Seasons Of Mist Records
Saint Vitus might not be as experimental as Horseback, but they don’t have to be. They’re fucking Saint Vitus. This is the band, along with the Obsessed, that created the entire doom genre. Interestingly both bands feature iconic guitarist/vocalist Wino. The new Saint Vitus album, Lillie: F-65 has some interesting history to it. It’s the first Saint Vitus record to feature Wino in 22 years (since 1990’s V) and the first with new drummer Henry Vasquez. Longtime drummer Armando Acosta was replaced in 2009, an act that left some bad blood between band members. Sadly, in 2010 Acosta passed away.
Lillie: F-65 (which refers to a powerful downer) plays like the band never missed a beat. Saint Vitus lay out seven tracks of power rock fury tuned down so the heaviness rumbles through your bowels. There’s a simplicity and groove to what Saint Vitus do that is so refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, all these guys are sick players, but they understand the power of the thick riff. Saint Vitus lets the riff play out, they’re not obsessed (dig THAT pun folks) with showing how many riffs they can play or how slow or how noisy. Saint Vitus music is that of drunken, angry bikers where as most doom today is that of angry former D&D kids with cool beards.
“Let Them Fall” kicks the album off with a riff that lands on your chest like a cinder block. The groove here is like a doom rock python. It wraps around you and squeezes until you’re left with faculties except to barely move your head. On top of this groove are Wino’s vocals. I love Wino’s voice; it’s like a world-weary drunk telling you the story of his life. There’s wisdom in that voice, you can just feel it.
Moving from the heavy to the dirty, the second track, “The Bleeding Ground”, is just filthy. The riff, the pace, the bass sound, it rains down like black dirt. By the end of the song I needed a shower to wash off the grime and the pure rock fury. “Blessed Night” is mid-tempo jam with a Sabbath feel, while “The Waste Of Time” brings the record to an absolute halt. It’s so slow you feel like it might not make it to the next measure. “The Waste Of Time” is as much about tension as it is about riffage.
The show stopper on Lillie: F-65 is “Dependence”, a seven minute opus that shows Saint Vitus opening up their musical palette a little more. A long intro guitar gives way to song that dabbles into odd time signatures more so than usual. Don’t worry, the thick grooves come, but surrounded by some interesting guitar and drum work. “Withdrawal” is awesome because it’s just feedback and noise. This is what you expect from The Melvins, not Saint Vitus, which is why it rules.
With Wino back in the band and the line up seemingly solid, I hope we get more from Saint Vitus. We need bands like this to show up and school folks on the power of the groove and the importance of the vibe. I love doom, but it’s becoming a caricature of itself. Saint Vitus has spent thirty years allowing the kids to run free and do what they want, safe in the knowledge that all things return to those who have mastered it.