Chapel Hill, North Carolina post-metal project Horseback has been on a constant path of evolution since its inception, and from the first track of new album Dead Ringers, songwriter Jenks Miller continues to see its transformation into something unexpected. The familiar sound of 2012’s Half Blood is dialed back to the point that there is little trace of guitar until three minutes into first song “Modern Pull.” The blues-tinged metallic foreboding that once marked the project’s sound is replaced by a sound more reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Obscured By Clouds. Yet fans of the project’s earlier work will find comfort in the guitar tone of the second song. “Shape of the One Thing” grows darker with ’70s synths haunting the song like a soundtrack from a vintage low-budget horror movie, and go full on krautrock when it’s time for them to take a solo. The vocals take on more of a whisper.
If you are going to drone, this is the way to do it. The sounds are layered in a manner so as to be woven in and out of these hypnotic jams. It’s a trip back back to the space age as the drugs really kick in for “A Bolt From the Blue,” which is as strong an argument as any for hearing this album under the influence. The vocals recall Genesis P-Orridge of Psychic TV, albeit a little more indie rock. It’s around this point that it’s clear the last vestiges of metal seem to have been shed on this album. There is a more fuzzed-out guitar tone on “the Cord Itself,” but it is far from heavy. Miller takes his time actually developing this one into a song, and instead opts to indulge more a full immersion of sound. “Lionkiller” is a more fully formed song and catches an appealing dreamy groove. The first song that has a more rock edge to it is “In Another Time…”, while the drifting daydream of “Larkspur” echoes a more chilled-out version of the Half Blood era.
The almost 17-minute “Descended From the Crown” closes the album. Hushed vocals emerge from behind atmospheric guitar jamming, and it fuddles and bubbles around for the duration. It is not the best display of Miller’s songwriting, but when you devote over 16 minutes to something, you are committed to it. There are no hints of anything that could be halfway considered metal anywhere near this album. For those drawn to that side of this project then it’ll take more of an open mind. If chemical enhancement is preferred, however, an altered state is one that might benefit the album, though it’s impressive regardless of the audience’s state. Stone cold sober, it deserves acknowledgement for the piece of art it is.