Horseback
The Gorgon Tongue: Impale Golden Horn + Forbidden Planet

Horseback is a unique musical entity that challenges the definition and boundaries of the epithet “band”. Of course this notion isn’t entirely new. Many musical outlets exist that seem to morph in and out of “projects” or “collaborations” and so on without being decidedly active or touring regularly. And when the style of musical output is ambient/experimental/drone/blah-blah, such as most pundits would call Horseback’s music, then it’s hard to dub a one-man project with the title “band” (ie. many of Aaron Turner’s “side projects”). I mean let’s be honest, what DO you call it when the entity in question is just one person (Jenks Miller in Horseback’s case) with “sometimes” no fewer than six other individuals “and others” on top of it? Then compound all of it with obscure releases, cassette-only releases, split-releases and the grey area of existence is basking in nebulous glory (and usually to the chagrin of the average musical passerby). It creates an air of elitism that I’m sure tickles the cockles of the hearts of the “in the know” crowd. But I digress…

My first introduction to Horseback was last year when towards the end of 2010 I started to see their name crop up more and more on “Year End” lists and reviews, and I had a mild curiosity when I saw Relapse was putting out their EP. That release, The Invisible Mountain, was only four songs, but quite a unique amalgamation of sounds. In fact, I think Brandon from Stereogum said it best when he paraphrased that EP by stating, “Horseback’s second album offers ambient, minimal, patiently repetitious Southern black metal drunk on imagined emotional and masculine Cormac McCarthy landscapes”. I picked it up and listened to it repeatedly, even earning an honorable mention on my own year-end list.

So, here it is mere months later and we have a new release, The Gorgon Tongue: Impale Golden Horn + Forbidden Planet, with a total of 10 songs, bringing together a reissue of Jenks Miller’s Impale Golden Horn with the new (and previously cassette-only release) work of the Forbidden Planet LP. The first taste of this album I experienced was the track “Veil Of Maya (The Lamb Takes The Lion)” – and though its nature was more subdued from the four songs on The Invisible Mountain, it definitely exuded the same vibe of sinister landscapes and otherworldly tones. It’s quite haunting of a track – complete with heavy psychedelia, post-metallic guitar buzz, droning and raspy vocals. If this song was any indicator for the rest of the album, I’d be in for a treat.

The album has two distinct halves with its musical tone. The first half is chock full of melodic drones that mostly harmonize, occasionally buzz and yet ultimately sound delicate and graceful. There’s the ‘ripples in the pond’ feeling, the ‘floating in the clouds’ euphoria and a general peaceful vibe where time slows down. Hints of Godspeed You! Black Emperor mirage their way through the ether sporadically, adding to the shimmering daydream backdrop. The layering is done masterfully where a guitar lick will reverberate for moments before diving low in the mix while a blissful feedback sizzle (oxymoron?) will swell up to harmonize with the surrounding musical elements – like the sounds of nature bleeding in and out of each other. Granted their ambient/drone is nothing new, it is executed with total aplomb.

There’s a music video for the song ‘Blood Fountains’ – but calling it a video is a stretch, I’d liken it to watching a computer screensaver more than anything (they go as far to say the video was “directed” – had a little laugh at that). However, the song does feature the only clean vocals on the album, and is a track that as a whole should definitely appeal to fans of Sigur Ros. The song wraps up the first “half” of the album and should leave fans of The Invisible Mountain scratching their heads. While texturally there is some crossover, musically it’s a profound stretch to compare the two. However great the melodic and wavering drones are, it should be noted that it is a significant departure from their previous EP.

The aforementioned “Veil Of Maya”, likely my favorite song on the album, starts the second half of The Gorgon Tongue and sets the mood to be more of the dark variety. Following that song is a three-parter “A High Ashen Breeze” parts I, II, and III, broken up between the second and third parts with “Alabaster Shithouse”. The three songs comprising “A High Ashen Breeze” utilize the same formula mentioned before with “Veil Of Maya” – distortion that sounds like a digital fire, malevolent basslines coming to the surface and black metal vocals buried amongst the drones and hissing (with no drums). The only difference with “Alabaster Shithouse” is that it brings fuzzy, tremolo picked black metal riffing to the forefront more prominently, still sans drumming, which gives the song a unique feel that, again, references a Cormac McCarthy landscape.

But just as the ride is winding down Horseback gooses you with a bait and switch to melodic vibrations on the last song, “Introducing Blind Angels”, that is lush, shimmering and, dare I say, angelic. No distortion or buzzing, just pure, open space and radiance. This song doesn’t just revert to the first half of the record’s graceful style, it leap frogs it into luminous melodic echoes of a place not of this earth but certainly celestial and peaceful.

Certainly a departure from their previous outing, there are clear threads of The Invisible Mountain throughout the mosaic of textures on The Gorgon Tongue, and it’s one that can stand on it’s own. Granted it’s a record that craves more refined settings for best enjoyment and listening, it can easily be as engaging or casual of a listen as the beholder permits and still be a great experience. Bonus points for this bringing to mind Relapse’s “other” label Release Entertainment to mind.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Stacy Buchanan
May 5th, 2011

Comments

  1. Commented by: shaden

    6 out of 10.would buy it if it had some awesome packaging on vinyl. otherwise dl only.


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