Album Review: PALE HORSEMAN The Fourth Seal
Something that has always gotten me about doom and sludge metal is that moment on the record when the initial heavy riff first kicks in. That moment when you find yourself drowning under the crunch, and all you can think is "Oh fuck, shit just got real". There is a certain sublime poetry to it, and it solidifies an album's place in your head. Of course some bands go on to abuse this, thinking they are the next Conan or something and browbeat you with dull and repetitive chugs. Other bands use the punch-in-the-gut assault of this type of songwriting to ensure that you can't help but to feel like you've fallen into something far greater and more transcendent than yourself. Pale Horseman fall into the latter category with their punchy Thin Lizzy-esque guitarmonies contrasting colossal riffs and devastating grooves that borrow just as much from old school death metal as they do from the guitar histrionics of 1970's superstars. Suffice to say, their latest offering The Fourth Seal makes for some very interesting listening.
I think what really fascinates me about Pale Horseman is their ability to inject their music with groove, but never make it feel like they are trying to overtly ape the New Orleans sludge scene. Instead, their brand of crushing riffs and bone splitting rhythms comes from a distinctly Chicago aesthetic. As their sound unfolds before you, you hear hints of bands like Trouble, and of course the weird, inexorable influence of the mastermind himself, Sanford Parker. It should come as no surprise that the band recorded with Dennis Pleckham of Bongripper for this particular effort. All that being said, there still is some polishing up that needs to be done, the guitars occasionally feel too muddy and I'm not sure I'm completely sold on the songwriting. While the individual elements are all excellent, I can't help but to wonder how much better this group is going to be with another record or too under their collective belts. That all being said, they seem to have a deep understanding of this scene and watching it unfold is a treat.
There is a very real sense of breadth that you get on The Fourth Seal that many of the bands peers don't necessarily share. I think it's the seamless fusion of heavy 70s psych with more modern ideas that leans into crafting a Neurosis-inspired sound from which there is no escape. The band seems to constantly be growing in volume, getting ever heavier and more terrifying, pumping dramatically and reminding us that the deeper the delve the harder it is to separate yourself from the devastation of the bottom end. This is the sort of band who understand the psychological power of doom and sludge and really play on that. The balls out assault and smooth Crowbar-esque guitar work gives you a reason to really sink your teeth into what Pale Horseman are all about. A group who are clearly going places, I'm excited to see what their future holds.