Horse The Band
A Natural Death
posted on 9/2007 By:
I’ve always dug bands like Horse The Band. Heaven knows that metal and hardcore are desperately in need of innovation, and these guys delivered the goods with their first two full-lengths, R. Borlax and The Mechanical Hand. With their blend of metalcore guitar work, scattershot mathy rhythms, lo-fi synths and lyrical irreverence, HtB have managed to both establish an eminently distinctive sound and spawn their own personal genre tag (though truth be told, I’ll count it a blessing if I never hear the term “Nintendocore” again). Though their instrumental skill has matured noticeably since their early days, I’ve always felt that HtB’s selling point laid with their weirdness and abject refusal to sink into the usual scowling heavy metal worldview. The band themselves, I’m sure, would concur, which is why A Natural Death puzzles me. For a band who bill themselves as wacky musical pranksters, this is a surprisingly serious concept album. Says keyboardist Erik Engstrom, “A Natural Death is about the futility and arrogance of creation and destruction, the overwhelming scale of space and time, and the brutal majesty of nature, the horror of birth and the beauty of death.” He then goes on in the same breath to suggest that people should take themselves less seriously. Hypocrisy aside, this is HtB’s most mature and musically ambitious album to date—which means that they sacrifice some of their famed cheek along the way.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still some goofiness to be had here. “Sex Raptor” is HtB’s inevitable crossover dance track, complete with a booty-shaking ummtsss ummtsss beat from versatile new drummer Chris Prophet, and “Kangarooster Meadows” is vocalist Nathan Winneke’s latest singsong tribute to his favorite hybrid animal. Video game noises still abound and are most prevalent through the 8-minute “I Think We Are Both Suffering From the Same Metaphysical Crisis,” which bears some beeps and chirps that I’m pretty sure are straight from NES-era Mario. Further, the character-breaking interludes of their last few releases make a comeback with the synths’n’sobbing combo of “The Beach” and the desolate clean guitar of “Rotting Horse.”
Unlike their counterparts on The Mechanical Hand, these tracks seem less like the band’s soundmaking ingredient and more like tangential accretions to their core sound. A Natural Death, more so than any other HtB album to date, relies first and foremost on songs and riffs rather than digressions and silliness to pull its weight. The songwriting itself hasn’t changed much; Dave Isen still cranks out needling, technical Shai Hulud-style riffing and chunky but not overblown breakdowns, the rhythm section still turns convulsively on a dime at every opportunity, and Winneke still rants and gibbers like a crackhead with rhythmic sensibility. As before, the formula occasionally fails (tracks like “The Startling Secret of Super Sapphire” and “His Purple Majesty” blow by without making much of an impression) but usually works out quite well. “Face of Bear” is one of the band’s strongest songs to date with its spastic yet catchy opening salvo, tense midsection, and dramatic chanted conclusion. “New York City” impresses with a jokey deathcore chugga part that explodes into frenetically thrashing melody, while “The Red Tornado” transfers seamlessly from gang-shouty hardcore to a sweeping and almost wistful blastbeaten segment. A Natural Death may stagger from section to section haphazardly and badly jar more conventional listeners, but the songs are largely well-crafted and catchy nonetheless.
Ultimately, though, this is just another Horse The Band album; it takes a few steps further down the road taken on The Mechanical Hand, but not enough to alienate old fans…or gain many new ones. This album can be safely recommended to anyone who enjoyed HtB’s past works, and it serves as a decent starting place for new listeners, though I personally prefer R. Borlax to either of the band’s newer full lengths. Either way, salutations to this band for keeping up the oddball sounds…and hopefully the next one will dispense with the pretension and return to utter absurdity.
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