Push play, lean back, fade in feedback, growing louder until the enormity of the music hits you HARD between the ears, and the assault is upon you, no turning back. Dubuque, Iowa is the base of operations for this two man powerhouse band that classifies themselves as a stoner/doom band. Wielding a drop-tuned seven string guitar and a five-piece drum kit, Anthony Dreyer and Alex Baumann have come together from the wasteland of cornfields and snowstorms to give us their first offering “Abominable” and have released two videos in support before the March 2017 release date as well. Eight songs tie together forty one minutes of some of the richest and flat-out HUGE sounding songs to come from two guys in my memory!!
Lead-off and title track ‘Abominable’ starts off just as described and let’s you know from the beginning that these two are serious and they are not fucking around either. ‘Electronaut’ continues in this same vein, the missing bass player not even looked for with the low end rumble of that drop-tuned seven string more than making up in complexity of progressions and outboard gear, creating a sense of multiple players. ‘Stoned And Feathered’ is even more brutal, hammering with a might and power that looms unstoppable until the last minute when there is a shift to a softer tone that becomes the intro to ‘Colossus’ and has a more staggered pace with power riffs and ultra time shifts and shows them flexing the doom/stoner hybrid colors with a mastery that is seemingly rare for a first recorded outing and this almost nine-minute instrumental shows the muscle behind.
Not a lot of info available about this band beyond their Facebook presence but as tight as they are together on this record, it would seem apparent they have been perfecting this for some time. ‘Lightbearer’ starts off with the traditional four-clicks of the sticks before this ‘running’ guitar line slips behind and pushes you down he road before you know what just hit you. Halfway through we enter the psychedelic portion of our program filled with the mystical that fades off into the intro to ‘Apophis’, a section that lets the doom feel come back in full force, lumbering along for less than two minutes before ‘Beneath The Black Sun’ takes hold with a complex weaving of loopy guitar and drum-line flying together, leading down yet another path of musical prowess shimmering with the power and might that lofts off into another fade off that ties ‘Himalayan Hymn’ completing what is a seemingly endless four part jaunt with no words necessary to convey the story, using only an insane complexity in time and structure to create this journey into the world they have created and taken us into the heart of. Suddenly, the music stops and just as you are thinking you have reached the end, there is a subtle spinning sound fading off and then it is indeed done. This forty one minute offering has reached it’s end and the ride has come to a close. This last four piece section in particular tells me that seeing these two live would be the ultimate medium to experience this melding of minds in to get the complete effect and I encourage you to do just that!!
Century Media Records – Release Date: February 3rd 2017
“Odyssey” really saw them forge their own path instead of being a Witchcraft/Graveyard also-ran. – Brian “Butch” Balich
I hope that Brian Balich, of Argus fame (for starters), doesn’t mind me quoting him to start off this review, though he beautifully summed up my thoughts on Horisont with this one sentence when we were recently having a lively Facebook discussion regarding their releases. I remember getting my hands on the first Horisont record some years ago, I believe it was when I was writing reviews for the now defunct Stonerrock.com, as that was a period in my life when I had all kinds of random promos floating through my home office. I remembered that they were a Swedish retro 70’s rock band, as was very much in vogue at the time with the success of Graveyard and Witchcraft, though they sang a considerable deal more in Swedish than Witchcraft, and there was a little more of ZZ Top’s boogie and swagger in their sound than was typical of the other throwback bands of the era. These guys obviously owned well-worn copies of Cactus albums. That was really the extent of the impression that their debut left upon me. It was well written, it was cleverly crafted and executed with style and poise, though for me personally, there wasn’t much to distinguish Horisont from any other band devoted to that big blues rock sound of lore. When I later received a promotional copy of their sophomore album, Second Assault, it just sounded like more of the same, and I kind of wrote them off as exactly what Butch described: a hopeful band following in the footsteps of these aforementioned other more successful bands, and ultimately finding themselves swallowed in the shadows instead.
With this in mind, it was with some surprise that I found more than a few people heralding Horisont’s 2015 album, Odyssey, as their favorite of the year. Granted, I’d no longer kept up on the band, because honestly there’s just too much music out there for any one person to fully absorb in a live time, and they’d just done nothing thus far to captivate my ever-ebbing attention span. Still, there was something so insistent, so fanatical about the praise being heaped on Odyssey, from people that I knew and trusted. I had to check it out for my lonesome.
I’m glad that I did, because it’s a real gem, a literal diamond in the proverbial rough. It blew me totally out of the water – right out of left field, Horisont had unleashed the best conceptual sci-fi metal album these ears had heard since Slough Feg’s most triumphant Traveler. Perhaps there was some trace of this transition in the band’s third album, Time Warriors, which I’d never heard prior to starting this review. I intend to remedy this situation and find out for myself. Okay, fuck it….I listened to it on YouTube just now, and although it’s a leap forward from the first two albums, flirting with some NWOBHM and prog rock influences, it’s nowhere near as actualized as Odyssey. Perhaps it was the addition of second guitarist Tom Sutton, who had previously played in a past incarnation of Japanese doom mongers Church Of Misery, that galvanized Horisont to so radically step up their game on their fourth album. The most obvious point of departure from the prior albums is the sheer scope of influence that Odyssey so seamlessly encompasses. It’s also worth pointing out that in their bio, they straight up state that it was Tom’s idea to write the ten minute song that eventually morphed into the title track, so there’s that. At any rate, this is the album that The Sword wished that they’d pulled off with Warp Riders, a 70’s throw back album that goes heavy on the science fiction elements without going full prog and thus sacrificing the bodacious boogie.
As much as I’d love to wax poetic about Odyssey for another several paragraphs, I’m going to resist that constant temptation for tangents, just this once. Instead, let’s fast forward a bit to the present moment; the year is 2017, and Horisont is on the verge of releasing their follow-up album, About Time. Tom Sutton is out, some other guy named David is in. This is their first album that’s coming out on Century Media, about a year and a half after Rise Above released Odyssey. I bring these things up strictly because they’ve boxed themselves into a very tight corner, coming off a real creative high point, signing with a new label, replacing a guitarist, then perhaps feeling some pressure to establish themselves on said label with a new release that’s going to follow up their crowning achievement. That’s a tall order, and a year and a half isn’t a lot of time to deliver.
About Time does ultimately deliver, capitalizing on the same strengths that marked its predecessor. It’s another progressive proto-metal album that reminds me of the mid-70’s output of some of my favorite bands of the era: Scorpions, Rush, Thin Lizzy, Blue Oyster Cult, Uriah Heep, Judas Priest, you get the idea. Musically, there’s a ton of super cool things going on. I can’t find a credit anywhere for who is covering the keyboard work, though that’s really one of the album’s strengths, the increased usage of synths both in terms of melodic lead parts and more atmospheric backdrops. The dual guitar attack is once again superb, each part bubbling over with taste and tact. The vocals continue to show improvement, mostly in the sheer bravado of frontman Axel’s delivery, though there are also so many awesome, Scorpions-esque backing parts laced throughout. I also enjoy the playfulness and subtle irreverence of the lyrics, plus the now obligatory song sung in Swedish. The bass and drums play well off one another, and they’ve both got an uncanny knack for holding down the groove while also making sure things stay fresh and interesting. The production is stellar – it’s a nice clean mix that brings out all the myriad elements. It’s also worth noting that the cover art is bad ass, looking like a page from a long lost comic book adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.
Okay, let’s revisit a point I was making earlier in relation to Odyssey. I often don’t like it when an album feels “rushed”, like the band wrote it hastily for some reason that leans more heavily towards being business rather than artistically oriented. I could potentially make that argument here. About Time clocks in at 10 songs in 37 minutes, which is quite a downsize from Odyssey’s 12 tracks and 52 minutes, plus we’re not getting a ten minute epic opener. About Time lacks that special kind of ambition and urgency, it doesn’t overflow with the feeling of unrestrained liberation unleashed by the breaking of prior constraints flows through every note of Odyssey. Rather, it’s more about a refining process, of solidifying and then expanding on previous ideas until they reach their new heights. I really enjoy the songs in and off themselves, the hooks and the pop sensibilities incorporated into a heavier retro metal format, that same alchemical formula for success which catapulted Ghost’s career, minus the corny costumes. Ultimately, this is my favorite Horisont album, largely on the strength of its songwriting, which in my mind frees me from that feeling that they might have been better off if they’d spent some more time on its creation.
Whenever I review a band that’s obviously going for any form of retro-rock shtick, I find myself wanting to go on a tangent about whether or not it’s creatively limiting to strictly mine certain eras of the past for inspiration, if such an approach ultimately cuts an artist off from whole swaths of potential influence. Horisont have pretty much put that particular internal argument to rest for me, as they’ve proven that any time period is a potential goldmine if one is simply willing to expand the breadth of one’s influences. Does any given retrophile act still reek a bit of gimmickry, however sincere in its intent? Sure, though that’s so often the price of entertainment, isn’t it?
Reviewed by Andy “A Beautifully Simple Smart Doorbell By Ding” Beresky
This is the second full length from the Polish doom outfit, Sunnata. While in full disclosure, I haven’t actually heard their debut, Zorya is certainly a breath of fresh air from what I usually hear from more modern “doom.” I hear lots of bands who hear Sleep’sDopesmoker for the first time, get really high, tune down to G flat, play really slow and think that’s the essence of “doom.” I hear other bands that take the retro route, and just try to ape the vibe of the first four Black Sabbath albums. I suppose that’s all well and good, and not particularly awful places to start off in the overall development of a band, though too often it turns into either a bit of a pitfall or a total dead end. Fortunately, Sunnata don’t fall into this trap. I personally like to hear bands that are interested in growth, development, experimentation, and bringing other influences into the fold.
This album doesn’t disappoint in any of those departments – it consistently surprised me with the various musical twists and turns, sometimes within the course of the same song, like the lengthy opener, “Beasts Of Prey.” It starts in a fashion that’s fairly typical of more contemporary doom, with a droning guitar chord and subsequent feedback, while the bass lays down a groovy, slow, slug wading through molasses intro riff. Soon enough, the guitars join in full force, building the bassline into a mighty wall of dark distortion. Twice it peaks with a more chiming, repetitive chord, before settling into a more mid-paced and punishing variation of the opening riff four minutes into the track. From there it cleans things up, with mellow, swirling psychedelic guitars and ethereal vocals delivered in the form of a mantra. Once things hit full throttle, it seems like there are two vocalists, one delivering a slightly more intense dreaminess, and the other offering a scream/throaty growl in counterpoint. It’s little juxtapositions like these that make Sunnata’s sound so effective, and it’s what makes them stand out in the crowded stoner doom crowd.
There’s a cool little guitar solo that kicks in – it sounds like slide guitar run through tons of delay, and it builds up the tension quite nicely with its mixture of melody and sheer mind searing noisiness. Nine minutes in, we see the temp once again shift into the faster “doom” realms where bands like High On Fire often find themselves. The guitars and drums blur more and more into faster, most melodic terrain, eventually taking on a slightly “blackened” timbre with the vocals and tremolo style riffs, before it suddenly peaks and ends. Wow, what an opener; it’s definitely the album’s highlight for me. The second song, “Zorya”, is no slouch by any means, though it is a little more conventional, beginning with the disembodied vocals posing the perpetual question, “Have you ever spread your wings to fly?” Only in my dreams, guys, only in my dreams. This tune is a bit more repetitive and minimalistic with the riffing, though it works, creating a trance-like backdrop for the vocals to alternate between aggression and contemplation, and there’s once again a really cool psychedelic guitar solo building into a chorus.
The third song, “Long Gone”, brings back the swirling clean tones of the first track, this time more downbeat and drawn out, which really gives them space to breath in and exhale all of their psychedelic goodness. Suddenly, things pick up into an exotic sounding motif, and we’re off to the proverbial races. Things get really intense really quickly, with the distortion kicking in along with a wah, which slowly filters the guitar’s tonality from low to high before flowing right into the verse, which follows the same motif and adds the now familiar vocals. The chorus uses some nice rhythmic and melodic variations, and there’s a section afterwards that uses some sweet syncopation as well. From their, the song repeats its clean intro, bringing in some tribal style drums a la Neurosis that leads to another distorted climax and finale. “New Horizon” starts with a fairly standard, slower doom riff, then shifts into more psychedelic territories with the guitars and vocals, which start out with an eerie chant evoking some cosmic monks on an ergotamine bender. The initial doom riff kicks back in, and the vocals pick up their typical counterpoint of styles. It’s a lot like the second song in many respects, more repetitive and trance inducing, though there’s notably a most excellent interplay between the melody of the solo section and the rhythm riff pulsing underneath it in this ascending pattern that echoes many of the themes of the album without speaking a single word.
They close with “Against And Against”, a song that’s lean and mean from the very start, starting off with a riff that’s right out of The Art Of Self Defense playbook and the album’s most aggressive vocals. I can dig it. It breaks done into some of the slowest riffs, punctuated by feedback and weird echoed bubbles of sonic depths yet to be explored. Things eventually grind to a complete halt in what could be classified as a fake ending, though this is just a tease – they’re not letting you off that easily. The riffs rehash, then slowly fade out, leaving only the barest of skeletal guitars by the end, buried in murk and reverb. Once again, this is a tease. A burst of feedback brings things right back to the forefront. Big, throbbing riffs and vocal harmonies pave the way for yet another bizarre fade-out, this one punctuated by seething white noise. It’s an interesting choice for ending an album, and quite an ambitious track.
When all is said and done, this an extremely promising album from a fairly new band. It’s not just paint by numbers doom – it showcases of a variety of influences and a spectrum of styles, all the while retaining a more modern edge. Sunnata never disappear down the retro rabbit hole, nor do they consciously ape any other band. The most apt comparison I could come up with is YOB, though even that analogy falls a little flat for me as well. It probably has more to do with YOB’s willingness to break the mold and experiment with different sounds and influences more than it has to do with actual similarities in sound. I’m definitely going to be watching this band with curiosity as they continue to grow, progress, and reach towards the upper empyrean of the doom multiverse….
Reviewed By Andy “Ding a ding dang my dang a long ling long” Beresky