Horseback and Locrian’s unsettling LP lets you fall prey to your own demons
Horseback/Locrian – New Dominions (Utech Records)
I’ve been glibly going about my social media saying that New Dominions, the fantastic, dread-inducing new collaboration between heavy music boundary pushers Horseback and Locrain, is the perfect soundtrack for a haunted house. But there’s a lot more going on here than that, compositions that explore space and create tension in a way few other artists can even approach. But as I lay here in my dimly lit bedroom, allowing their unsettling sounds to wash over me, I can feel the fear welling up in the bottom of my stomach. There’s something genuinely terrifying about what these collaborators have created here, and it’s the record’s greatest strength.
It’s an asset that floored me on my first listen through the record, mainly because I didn’t see it coming. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but for the first minute or so, I was a little disappointed. There was nothing much happening. “The Gift,” the first of two tracks on this one-side LP, starts with lazy static blowing about and a drawn out ringing, like dragging a hammer on the outside of a bell, cutting through the background in regular intervals. There’s menace in the ringing and in the static too, but it pales in comparison to the more arresting moments in each band’s catalog.
From the lumbering monstrosities of The Invisible Mountain to the sci-fi rage of this year’s Forbidden Planet (re-released as part of The Gorgon Tongue), Jenks Miller’s Horseback project has managed to be imposing in a variety of ways. Locrian’s two 2010 LPs, Archetypes and The Crystal World, dished out all-consuming apocalypses, the former creating a cruel techno-future out of harsh electronics, the latter creating a chilly wasteland from strung-out guitar and the occasional hissing vocal. The two have been so good at invoking hopelessness and despair, I must have subconsciously expected for them to come out guns blazing, firing for the heavens.
But that has never been the M.O. for either outfit. They build elements slowly, patiently manipulating your senses until you’re ready to go wherever they want to take you. New Dominions takes this disarming subtlety farther than either group has done on their own. “The Gift” doesn’t change much over its duration, but that’s the source of its impact. Its formula evolves just enough to build bone-rattling anticipation. The static ratchets up slightly, the metallic scrapes are joined by sly prickles of sound, some steely, some electronic. You know there’s something coming around the corner, but you don’t know what. After a while Miller’s rasping vocals reveal themselves quietly, croaking and gasping like a corpse clawing his way out of the crypt. His groans take on the fears your mind builds up over the course of the song, bolstering it into something truly chilling.
The second track, “Our Epitaph,” operates similarly, though its longer running time allows to build even more nerviness. Slowly throbbing bass dominates the track, wispy feedback whirring in the background. Piercing guitar rings through as do distorted, far-off voices. Further on, a voice that’s just too quiet to make out takes hold. His foreboding tone suggests a warning, and the fact that you can’t quite make him out makes it all the more unwitting. Even if you could hear him, what he says wouldn’t make it any better. “In the atmosphere/Looming overhead/Contaminated blazes,” he says in a monologue that paints the world at its end. The words would be scary enough, but instead the artists allow the listener’s mind to do the damage on its own.
It’s for this reason that I stand by my claim that this could be the soundtrack for the greatest ever haunted house. Locrian and Horseback allow the haunting recesses inside their sound to set the mood, forcing the listener’s mind to contemplate the petrifying uncertainty within. Turn off the lights, throw this record on and your home or apartment will instantly become a gripping house of horrors. Go ahead, try it for yourself. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.