The great thing about Horseback is that they manage to defy any kind of genre classification. It’s not that great for poor old reviewers like me but hey, it’s all about the music and it’s what we get paid for at the end of the day. Sorry, did I say ‘paid’? My mistake, I meant ‘for the love of it’!
Seriously though, “Half Blood”, the second full-length album from what is principally a one-man project, Horseback, is one of those albums that takes inspiration from a vast array of musical sources and blends them together to create something rather unique and, importantly, rather tasty. The man behind Horseback, Jenks Miller, is clearly not shy of a challenge, which is a positive thing in my book. Instead of more of the same, he’s tried to test some boundaries. Listen hard enough and you’ll find elements of psychedelic rock, doom metal, black metal, progressive rock; even flashes of country, drone or ambient noise. It’s a heady and challenging combination to be sure but it works in reality a lot better than it does on paper.
On first listen, it’s the vocals that instantly stand out. Taking the form of black metal shrieks, it’s easy to dismiss this album as post-black metal work-out. That’s far from the case however, and after several spins, it becomes clear that the vocals are pretty much the only extreme metal element of this disc. Well, that and the pretty dark cover artwork of course.
The album feels in some ways like its split in two, with the opening four tracks differing significantly from the final three. These last three songs are, in essence, a trilogy, under the umbrella moniker of “Hallucigenia I-III” and these tracks, culminating in the twelve-minute hypnotic ambient drone piece “Hallucigenia III – The Emerald Tab” are an exercise in exploring epic soundscapes through a minimalist approach, nodding towards the likes of Earth in the process.
If I’m honest however, it is the first half of “Half Blood” that offers me the most entertainment. The screeched vocals sit atop some very well-crafted songs that are psychedelic rock at their core and, in the case of my personal favourites, “Ahriman” and “Arjuna”, engage the listener through simple, yet addictive and groovy melodies. This is only scratching the surface though and, as you delve deeper and deeper into “Half Blood”, the subtle complexities that stem from the blending of normally disparate influences start to surface. It keeps you coming back for more without a doubt. Normally, this kind of thing does not sit high on my list of listening priorities. But crucially, when it’s done this well, it’s hard to ignore.