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Horse The Band - "Desperate Living" (CD)

Horse The Band - "Desperate Living" CD cover image

"Desperate Living" track listing:

1. Cloudwalker (4:50)
2. Desperate Living (4:07)
3. The Failure Of All Things (4:51)
4. HORSE the song (featuring K-SLAX) (4:24)
5. Science Police (3:50)
6. Shapeshift (featuring Jaime Stewart) (5:11)
7. Between The Trees (3:55)
8. Golden Mummy Golden Bird (4:46)
9. Lord Gold Wand of Unyielding (featuring Lord Gold and His Purple Majesty) (2:32)
10. Big Business (featuring Ed Edge) (4:56)
11. Rape Escape (featuring Valentina Lisitsa) (7:12)
12. Arrive (4:10)

Reviewed by on June 8, 2010

"Horse the Band goes on to prove that with a little bit of creativity and a little less trepidation you can make a fantastic record that breathes new life into the metal scene..."

Horse the Band are known for being an eclectic bunch. Throughout their extensive 11 year career the band has become instantly identifiable by their trademark 8-bit Nintendo sound and constant switches between metalcore and more accessible melodies. Although the game hasn’t changed much for the group within the duration of their career, they have made some attempts at changing things up considerably on their latest offering, “Desperate Living.”

The album opener "Cloudwalker" is a great example of the journey this album will take its listeners on. Within the first minute the sonic shifts come from all different directions and are seemingly endless. A techno dance intro from keyboardist Erik Engstrom quickly gives way to thick down tuned guitars and near virtuosic drumming from new recruit Daniel Pouliot. Longtime vocalist and founding member Nathan Winneke is on a level all his own this time around. He switches without any effort between his distinct style of harsh vocals to near ballad-esque croons, which make for some spectacular peaks and valleys within this complex arrangement. The band itself seems to have a renewed energy and passion for playing music that just seemed to be missing on the previous effort, “A Natural Death.”

The energy, and more importantly the quality, stays right on par through the next tracks “Desperate Living,” “The Failure of all Things,” and the band’s apparent new theme song appropriately titled “HORSE the song.” The latter features a more melodic approach to the songwriting which will surely translate extremely well over to their live performances. A driving catchy melody from Engstrom provides the backbone to this dancer while lone guitarist David Isen dictates the pace and style.

The following track, “Science Police,” is one of the few low points on the record as the song itself seems to lack a direction. While the song possess a fantastic and memorable chorus there is also a lack of structure, which makes it hard to properly appreciate. But after some extensive spins it does tend to become a grower. While it is the more pop worthy cut off of the disc there are some aggressive moments, in the form of a mediocre breakdown, that may redeem it for some listeners. But the song itself it nothing spectacular compared to what else is offered on the album.

The following two tracks, “Shapeshifter” and “Between the Trees,” offer the greatest leap forward in Horse the Band’s musicianship and overall song quality. Prog enough to be called progressive but not enough to be called a Dream Theater song, “Shapeshifter” hits you with every style possible, yet without seeming forced or overly hectic. The song also features some incredible sample work by guest musician Jamie Stewart, including a crescendo cell phone ring that builds into one of the most complex pieces of music the band has written to date. "Shapeshifter" also features one of the heaviest sections on the entire record. Where other bands fall into the trend of genre mashing for the purpose of showing off, Horse the Band does it so effortlessly that it comes across as being simple. There is nothing wrong with that though as “Between the Trees” also takes the same approach, just much more on the melodic and cleaner side of things. The intro is especially clean and beautiful and offers a side to the band that does not get nearly enough exposure and credit.

The standout track, if one was forced to be chosen, would be the awkwardly titled yet elegantly presented “Rape Escape.” Within the song’s 7 minute duration it provides a steady build through layers of melody and textures of emotion to an absolutely stunning piano solo from guest musician Valentina Lisitsa. With the exception of the somewhat generic last track “Arrive,” “Rape Escape” provides for a perfect closing to the record and certainly leaves the listener begging for more.

“Desperate Living” is the perfect example of what modern metal can sound like. While the formula presented here may not work for everyone, there is a desperate need for more bands to step outside their comfort zones and try new things. Horse the Band goes on to prove that with a little bit of creativity and a little less trepidation you can make a fantastic record that breathes new life into the metal scene, and without completely alienating your fan base. "Desperate Living" is an incredible work of art.

Highs: Impressive musicianship on most tracks, especially "Rape Escape," "Shapeshifter," and "Between the Trees."

Lows: A few tracks near the end of the album tend to be on the more generic side and less progressive.

Bottom line: A must have for fans of unique yet crushing progressive metal.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)