The Mound Builders / Pale Horseman – Split (Failure Records & Tapes, 16 April 2016)
Pale Horseman – Pale Horseman (self-released, 17 April 2013)
Pale Horseman – Mourn the Black Lotus (self-released, 07 July 2014)
Pale Horseman – Bless the Destroyer (Bullet City Records, 30 November 2015)
Here at Valley of Steel headquarters, we’ve been trying very hard to bring you quality reviews almost every day (sometimes two at a time!) as a public service, so that you, the reader, get the opportunity to check out as much new music as possible. Hopefully some of you folks out there appreciate that, and you’ve managed to discover at least one thing you’ve really enjoyed after reading about it here.
Well yesterday there was no new review (but as a side note, for those who live near Pittsburgh, have you entered yesterday’s contest for Chelsea Wolfe tickets yet? — And as a side side note, have you also entered our other current giveaways, for Baroness or Thy Art Is Murder yet??), so to make up for that, today we’re presenting an unprecedented quadruple review!!
…Ok, ok, that’s not exactly how this came about — the truth is, just a couple of days ago, we received word that Failure Records had a special release lined up for this year’s Record Store Day (which is this Saturday, the 16th!), a split record featuring a pair of songs each from Lafayette, Indiana’s The Mound Builders and Pale Horseman from Chicago. And the second of those names really rang a bell, because over the past few years Valley of Steel has received a total of three albums from that band — all good ones, too — but somehow we just never have gotten around to writing about any of them.
Until today. Sit down and buckle up, because we’re about to cover all of it.
Let’s start with the split LP, since that’s the one due to come out this week. Ok? Each band contributes two never-before-released songs, totalling around twelve to thirteen minutes per side.
The first half comes from The Mound Builders, named for the funerary practices of certain native North American cultures. Admittedly this is not a band I’ve heard previously, so approaching their pair of tracks I only have their press release bio to guide the way: this quintet of Hoosiers blends doom, stoner, metal, and punk, for an amalgam they refer to as “River Sludge.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it does seem fairly appropriate. “Hashashin” (Arabic for “hashish-user,” and also the source of the word “assassin”), the first of their songs, is dark and bassy, with an ethereal and exotic-sounding opening, before turning into a kind of slow, jazzy, stoner metal — heavy and nicely fuzz-laden, likely to appeal to fans of Borracho or Clutch. This is followed by “Black Drink Ritual,” also heavy and fuzzy, giving off more of a “groove-sludge” vibe — which I’d almost equate to something like NWOAHM-tinged stoner/sludge — and definitely stick around for the throat-shredding vocals that pop up later in the song. As an introduction to a new band (well, new to me — apparently they’ve been around for several years, with the earliest release on their Bandcamp page dating back to 2011), this seems to work rather well, certainly enticing the listener to want to learn more about them and check out some of their other material!
The flip side features Pale Horseman, whose name is most likely a reference to the personification of death, and whose official bio features such highlights as “depressing sludge heaviness” and “a misanthropic world view.” For those not already familiar with this Illinoisan four-piece, well, by the end of this article you surely will be! They start out with “Ghosts of the Gallows” — dark, downtuned, and downtrodden, with sort of faraway, very echoey, gruff vocals (think “I Have Failed“); this is followed by “Long Way Down,” which is a touch faster and more aggressive-sounding, with almost a Helmet-ish NYHC-influenced feeling in the guitar part. The style of these two nicely represents the majority of the band’s previous discography, which without any further ado we’ll be diving into now …
Pale Horseman, the self-titled debut album from 2013 consists of eight tracks, mostly in the five-to-ten minute range, with a couple of exceptions: on the short end, the quick (almost bouncy, at least in the guitar part — the vocals are still in a heavy sludge style) “Souls of Us” clocks in at just three-and-a-half; by contrast, the massive closing track “Afterlife” tips the scales at around fifteen-and-a-half, veering near post-metal territory in spots, before settling into some tasty old-school occult heavy-doom riffs, and then ending on a super long guitar solo that you could really lose yourself in. In between, these songs range from mid-tempo to slow to very slow fuzzy-sludge-doom riffs, heavy and aggressive for the most part, with the exception of some kind of psychedelic weird noise effect things that happen between some of the songs. Also, in at least one spot (near the beginning of “Beasts of the Earth”) the guitars take on a distinctively Finnish death-doom sound. Vocally, we mostly find the heavy, aggressive, sludge-style vocals that were present in the tracks on the new split, but many of the songs here have a second part, a bit quieter and cleaner — in opener “Black River” these repeat after the main vocalist like a faint shadow, while “Fork in the Road” features this other part throughout the chorus, and “Paranormal Unknown” mostly features the trippy/drone-style vocals (while still consisting mostly of sludge-doom riffs). And for a change of pace, “Bring Me Down” includes a pair of deadpan-esque vocal parts in unison, with a heavier hollering coming in occasionally in a call-and-response style.
Sophomore album Mourn the Black Lotus (2014) includes seven tracks, ranging from about four to nine minutes in length, except the last one “Clairvoyant” which is more like sixteen-and-a-half — a mid-tempo affair full of despair and desolation, with the vocals descending to a deep, bellowing howl; as the track progresses it becomes an unending spiral of ghastly noise surrounding another rather long guitar solo. The rest of the songs here are mainly heavy, sludgy, slow, and agonizing once again; with the exception of the occasional ambient intro or segue that resembles a horror movie soundtrack, we basically have all hard-hitting, punch-you-in-the-head music here. Unlike the previous album, where there are two vocal parts on this one, both are generally growly and aggressive. In fact, in some of the songs, including “Running for the Caves” and “Grudgulence,” the vocals tend to get even deeper and heavier; I’d almost go as far as to compare them with someone like Sepultura. Then, following these songs there is an eighth, bonus track: Justin K Broadrick (Godflesh, Jesu) has presented a remixed version of “Fork in the Road” from the band’s debut album, which he has transformed into a bass-heavy concoction with some atmospheric synth sounds in the background and an industrial-sounding drum part; just for fun, the vocals here have been twisted into something truly frightening and hideous.
And lastly, the 2015 album Bless the Destroyer which features five tracks (ranging between six and eight minutes except for — you guessed it — the penultimate track “Bastard Child” which stretches to fifteen. Slow, then really slow, then excruciatingly slow, surprisingly this song does not end with a several-minute-long guitar solo, but earlier it does evolve into a slow jazzy form of psychedelia for a bit before going back to sludgetown. Otherwise, we encounter material that alternates between slow, chuggy, sludgy, very slow, moderately slow, occasionally death-doomy, sunken deep into the mire of depression and darkness, and above all else, heavy as balls.
The Mound Builders / Pale Horseman split will be available to order on Record Store Day here; Pale Horseman is available on CD/MP3 from the band here, Mourn the Black Lotus here, and Bless the Destroyer CD/MP3 here. All three prior-year albums are also streamable on Bandcamp:
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