Haunted Horses are a trio from Seattle, Washington who play impossibly eerie, dark post-punk. Watcher is abrasive, dissonant and unsettling; full of rumbling tribal drumming underneath ominous synth drones and piercing, trebly guitar picking. Where many death rock and post-punk bands adhere to what are essentially pop song structures and tropes – albeit dark versions of such – Haunted Horses definitely draw their influence from the opposite end of the spectrum.
These tracks are free-form and impressionistic, steering well clear of anything even closely resembling new wave in favour of hypnotic marches and schizophrenic song structures that veer wildly from robotic repetition to explosions of volume and dissonance and back again just as suddenly. Eschewing the bass-heavy melodicism of other post-punk acts, these tracks have a nerve-shredding obsession with higher frequencies and atonality played off against drums that can come off as both tribal and organic and robotic and completely off-kilter. The vocals, too, veer wildly, from a flat apathetic drawl to harsh hollers, but they always sound distant and mostly are all but consumed in the cacophony of the instruments, like a ghostly afterglow adding yet more menace to the proceedings.
Cemetery‘s cassette demo in 2011 was a welcome and gloomy surprise from Chicago that I first wrote about for CVLT Nation in March, 2012. Although the band have produced at least an LP’s worth of material – and are planning to release it soon, as they detail below – since the demo, and have played out on the East Coast and elsewhere, it’s hard to find info on the mysterious group. As one of the better-sounding bands that are part of the new revivalist deathrock and goth-punk movement that includes bands like Lost Tribe, The Spectres, Deathcharge, Arctic Flowers, Crimson Scarlet, Belgrado, and others, the creepy, Christian Death-sounding quartet have slowly been amassing followers due to word of mouth praise and dubbed circulation of their cassette.
I interviewed singer Danny and guitarist Desmond below to find out what bands have inspired them and what they’re currently working on.
Label: Svart Records
It’s hard to talk about Finnish post punkers Beastmilk’s much hyped debut album Climax without playing the ‘spot the 80s musicians’ reference game. The influence of Echo & The Bunnymen, Morrissey, Joy Division and Danzig is readily apparent when listening to Beastmilk’s rattling gothic rock, but there is something more to this album, something not so necessarily quantifiable, that sets it apart from simple nostalgic throwback music.
Maybe it’s the undeniably modern and hard rocking production from Massachusetts musical mastermind Kurt Ballou, guitar freak for hardcore luminaries Converge and engineer and owner of God City Studios, responsible for producing pretty much every great hardcore album released in the past decade or so.
Or maybe it’s that the time vocalist Kvohst has served fronting legendary British/Norwegian black metal bands Code and Dodheimsgard has granted him a greater sense of theatricality and immediacy and a bigger set of balls than your average gloomy pale post-punkers ever had.
There must be something in the air of late – darkness and gloom is permeating the world of rock and roll in a more obvious manner these last few months and it’s in bands such as Soror Dolorosa, Beastmilk and Vaura that this melancholy resonates. It’s almost pertinent to note that all of those acts have a history with much more extreme genres of music but all have, for some reason, wandered over to the side of sadness and embraced the cold, dark waves of modern goth. Vaura have, among their ranks, a member of Gorguts (Kevin Hufnagel – guitar), Toby Driver of Kayo Dot (bass) and they are lead by the ever busy Joshua Strawn (Blacklist, Religious to Damn – vocals, guitar) along with drummer Charlie Schmid (also ex-Religious to Damn); it’s clear, though, that despite their backgrounds, all four musicians share a love for the sounds of the gothic movement.
You better get on your knees, the apocalypse is coming and its four horsemen are Dreadlords. This group of ritualistic racket-makers summon up an unholy concoction of apocalyptic blues, Satanic southern gospel and shamanic sacrilege. This blasphemous demo tape sounds like the sonic incarnation of a Flannery O’Connor short story or Cormac McCarthy novel – back before he started winning literary prestige awards and was still writing twisted Southern bloodbaths about incest, scalping and backwoods violence.
Guitars and piano clang and crash in a free form fall through a cathedral-sized chamber of reverb, while Dreadlords’ singer rants and raves like a schizophrenic madman at the pulpit, veering from Nick Cave-style blues sermonizing (once again, think less his later dad-rock, Kylie Minogue duet-ing phase and more his spastic early years) to black metal-esque croaking and snarling, and even the occasional haunting howl of a werewolf in full moon fever.
Over the past few years, one-man synth mastermind Wes Eisold has traversed virtually the entire spectrum of dark electronic music – beginning with bedroom recording experiments under the formative Ye Old Maids moniker, which then evolved into Cold Cave, through which he was experimented with harsh power electronics and industrial noise (on the Cremations collection), minimal dance pop (on debut album proper Love Comes Close), and even full blown arena-ready new wave (on the project’s first professional studio/full band realisation Cherish The Light Years). In the process, he worked with a range of different record labels including sometime collaborator and Prurient godfather Dominick Fernow’s Hospital Productions, indie rock giants Matador Records, and his own recording/publishing venture Heartworm Press. Since the somewhat climactic Cherish The Light Years, which looked set to push Cold Cave into considerably larger venues and audiences, Eisold has returned to his bedroom roots and weirder tendencies, releasing a string of stripped-down singles through his own label and old band American Nightmare’s hardcore home Deathwish Inc. Over the course of these singles – A Little Death To Laugh, Oceans With No End, God Made The World and Black Boots – Eisold has returned to the minimal synth/drum machine/laptop set-up and dark dance pop of Love Comes Close, whilst maintaining the harder rocking tendencies and confidence of his bigger material.
Patrick Hasson is the kind of person that makes you feel like you’re wasting your life. A one-man musical behemoth, Hasson currently operates five (that I know of) different solo projects, and all of them are fucking amazing. Without pigeonholing them too much, because each of these endeavours is surprisingly diverse: Black Chalice is Hasson’s vessel for exploring the possibilities of death and doom metal, Avulse and Auspicium mine the respectively raw, punky and epic, atmospheric poles of black metal, Field Of Spears traverses the more subdued darkness of neofolk, and Wholy Failure, the hardest to categorise, exists somewhere in the post-punk/electronic realm.
Wholy Failure’s latest, Abortion Eucharist, is absolutely not what you would expect from Hasson, although if you’ve been paying attention that should be exactly what you have come to expect from him. That being said, Wholy Failure is undoubtedly the weirdest thing Hasson has done to date, even when considered apart from the context of his other endeavours. Abortion Eucharist is definitely hard to pin down, full of electronic beats, synthesizers, electric piano, organ, acoustic guitar, heavily effected vocals, and without a doubt the weirdest and most unexpected song Patrick Hasson has ever released, “Smile”, a three and a half minute pop song. I’m not shitting you.
One of the best peace-post-punk records to come out of America in the 80′s was created by San Francisco unsung heroes TRIAL & the name of their classic album is Moments Of Collapse. This band started out as a young peace punk band in the early 80s, but by ’84 their sound really started to develop into something more akin to post punk. TRIAL’s anarcho punk roots ran deep – their singer John was the younger brother of Matt from Crucifix; Chris, their drummer, played for Crucifix; & Cyrnai was once a member of the Sleeping Dogs, the 1st American band signed to the Crass label. Moments Of Collapse was a testament to the band’s creative spirit – the opening track, “Lobotomized Visions,” is a dense wall of industrial dirge that’s sound can never be dated. John’s lyrics were written from somewhere deep within his heart, but he wrote them in a way that we all can be touched by them. Songs such as “Unshackled In The Garden” have this eerie neo-folk vibe about them; his voice seems like a haunting fog rolling over the hills. TRIAL was not afraid to experiment with sound: how it could be bent, stretched & deconstructed, then built in to something new. Every song on Moments Of Collapse drips with damaged emotion, these are compositions that have layers of cold built around a warm skeleton. The drumming on this album is a voice unto itself; the way Chris plays, it’s like he is speaking different languages for us to decode. If you are into post-punk & would like to hear a record that was created from the heart, for our hearts, then TRIAL’s Moments Of Collapse will build your future. So now all you have to do is do whatever you have to do to find this album on vinyl!
Like a spectre itself, Nothing To Nowhere seeps in on a bed of reverb drenched guitars, ominous bass, echoing drums and distant, ghostly hollers. Spectres‘ music is halfway between the gloomy grace of goth and the vibrant angularity of post punk, able at the drop of a hat to ricochet from ethereal sublimity to surprisingly propulsive guitar and bass driven punk. Nothing To Nowhere touches on everything from sharp, toe-tapping minimalism to sonically layered gothic grandeur, with a production job that is absolutely spot on and surprisingly full throated vocals that lend some punk rock attitude and stadium swagger to Spectres’ somber excursions into beautifully depressing transcendence.
Nothing To Nowhere definitely feels like a lost post punk classic from the eighties record collection of an older sibling, one of those enticing albums with their mysteriously out of focus, black and white sleeves adorned with exotic SPECIAL IMPORT stickers. Back in those days you were still avowedly Punk Til Death and shunned every band that actually sang and hid behind make up instead of distortion (unless it was corpse paint), but were really too proud to admit that those strange bands with their black uniforms and songs about death actually scared you in a way that all your favourite Satanic cartoon metal bands never did.
…or at least listen to.
There have been a lot of new dark postpunk and deathrock releases lately. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track. But here are some of the recent singles, EPs, and LPs that deserve your attention.
Like their fellow deathrockers in Fangs on Fur and Christ vs Warhol — two bands that, like Catholic Spit, are from Southern California — Catholic Spit inject their take on deathrock with a fiery punk sensibility and energy. This 6 person (!) band has been fairly prolific compared to other bands in the genre. (The most prolific band has to be Blue Cross, who have released 3 LPs in just over two years.) Catholic Spit’s 7-song Pact with the Devil LP was released in late 2012 and was followed only a few months later with the uptempo “I’m Your God Now” 2-song 7″. And now comes this split, which you can stream for free at the band’s Bandcamp page. Ericka’s vocals shriek — in a good way — through watery, flangey guitars (think John McGeoch), backed up by Nick Townsend’s andrenalized, uptempo punk-style drumming and Kaleb’s rock solid bass. (Townsend also did the band’s recordings for this release.)
The Catholic Spit contribution to the split can be heard at this Youtube video below.