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Horseback & Locrian - New Dominions

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Artist: Horseback & Locrian

Album: New Dominions

Label: Relapse

Review date: Jan. 10, 2013

Chicago’s Locrian is fond of releasing a clutch of tracks at a time on small-run, elegantly packaged editions that eventually get collected on releases like this. Genuine sonic experimentalists, it’s not a huge surprise that the trio decided to collaborate with Chapel Hill drone merchants Horseback, whose extensions of “black metal” go so far into atmosphere that they become “black psychedelia.” The initial pair of tracks now padded out to five, New Dominions stands as compelling evidence of what “metal” bands are coming up with routinely outside the customary signifiers of the genre.

“The Gift” opens with a resonant scraped drone that slowly takes on an unsettling quality as a morphing background emerges. Except “background” isn’t a fair term for detail so carefully considered on these performances; perhaps “environment” or “context” would be more suitable. Much of this I attribute to Locrian, who clearly have one ear on free improvisation in much of their work. You can hear prepared innenklavier, extended percussive techniques, and swaths of electronics. It’s the latter that overlaps with Horseback, innamorati of ebows and analog keys and black metal vocals mewled and scraped by leader Jenks Miller. Across this opening track, things crumble, tape is mangled, and there’s a general atmosphere of decay until, amid shimmering guitar oscillations and crumbling towers in the background, a pattering drum emerges alongside Miller’s rasp. Each band has displayed a good instinct for contrast, and good sense enough to foreground a crisp detail, and New Dominions doesn’t ever find them stepping on each other’s toes; rather, they seek new ways to layer and build a sense of creeping unease.

“Our Epitaph” buzzes ominously, with a down-tempo, singularly insistent interval and scooped-out spectral vocals that sit at the cross-section of early Swans and Joy Division. Frosty winds circle, growing steadily, as high melancholy tones float around you, leaving in its wake semi-Gothic synth and shrieking feedback. The shimmering electronic haze of “Oblivion Eaters” is much more clearly a Horseback tune, specifically the kind of satori-besotted epic heard on their The Gorgon Tongue from several years back. They conjure tons of depth and texture, like an army of Gary Lucas guitars squiggling to make up the veil of Maya. With “In the Absence of Light,” however, the bands seem to have in mind the most recent Sunn 0))), with groaning chordal motion juxtaposed with lambent piano arpeggios. To close things out, a James Plotkin remix of “The Gift” foregrounds just a few of the tune’s elements: a gnashing, growling animal vocal, distorted percussion, and a rumbling bed of electronic grit (with greater emphasis on the sound of backwards tape and blades, a glassy chorus accompanying).

Melancholy, sonically adventurous, and occasionally just a bit scuzzy. What’s not to like?

By Jason Bivins

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