Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Horseback/Locrian—New Dominions (Relapse)

Although this album is a bleak listen, it’s still exhilarating to bask in the sonic collisions wrought by Horseback and Locrian. New Dominions is a reissue/compilation of collaborations and individual tracks from a pair of 2011 vinyl releases. Horseback works in a variety of modes, from the blackened Americana riff rock of last year’s Half Blood to the abstract fields of sound found on Forbidden Planet. If it’s branded Horseback, it’s going to freak you out, that’s for certain. Locrian work in the same experimental realm as Horseback, issuing a steady stream of releases on various labels, including Relapse these days. Their 2012 collaboration with Mammifer, Bless Them That Curse You (Profound Lore) is another challenging record that’s well worth steeling your nerves for.

The first two tracks are from a collaborative 12-inch EP originally on Utech Records. On “The Gift,” wind howls, guitars scrape, somebody plucks a piano’s innards, a drum pattern rises from the murk and attempts to impose order before it’s too late. “Our Epitaph” writhes in ecstatic agony for 13 minutes, with bass and tom-toms relentlessly counting out the time. Once the vocals have finished, delicate sheets of guitar and ripples of feedback take over, sounding (I imagine) like the final radio transmissions from a dying planet.

A split 7-inch first released by Turgid Animal Records is next on the program. Horseback’s “Oblivion Eaters” emphasizes the almighty drone, with Jenks Miller’s rasping vocals competing with a squall of guitars that almost sound like massed bagpipes. Locrian’s “In the Absence of Light” is full of deep-throated guitars on the edge of feedback destruction. Piano and ominous voices contribute to the haunted atmosphere. Interestingly, for a genre that often shuns the human voice—there’s no conventional song structure; no verses and choruses, after all—every track on New Dominions features vocals. They provide a human connection amidst the tortured electronics, and make the entire mood all the more despairing. James Plotkin’s remix of “The Gift” (exclusive to this release) sounds like urban demolition rather than the radiation-poisoned windstorms of the original. The remix is thus very much its own thing and an essential addition to the album. It reveals different layers buried within the original track, twisting, inverting and elongating what were already some mesmerizingly daunting sounds. It completes the cycle, ending the album by returning to the beginning, in a way. Balance restored, you’re released to the outside world again; a world that looks a little brighter than it did before.

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