Horseback – The Gorgon Tongue

Horseback - The Gorgon Tongue

The material on The Gorgon Tongue could’ve been lost to the void were it not for Relapse Records. Following the label’s reissue of Jenks Miller’s acclaimed The Invisible Mountain (released under the Horseback project), Relapse compiled two rare albums of his early output: the shoegaze-influenced drone outfit Impale Golden Horn, and the power ambient cum black metal Forbidden Planet. The former has the legacy of being Miller’s first solo album; the latter was a cassette-only release originally out on Brave Mysteries.

Now although this Chapel Hill musician is known today for playing the genre roulette better than most – touching upon drone, experimental folk, psychedelic rock, black metal, and Americana in half a dozen bands to great appeal – Impale Golden Horn demonstrates Miller’s ability to integrate disparate influences into a strikingly consistent gestalt from the earliest moments of his career. The first side to The Gorgon Tongue opens with seventeen minutes of major-key drone, logically titled “Finale.” It is, frankly, gorgeous; and full of swelling synthesizers with harmonizing feedback. It is a beatific start to the album that has much in the way of “Farewell” from Boris’s Pink, which contained a similar shoegaze-and-drone texture. Follow-up track “The Golden Horn” continues the peaceful, dreamy atmosphere with oscillating tremolo and faint washes of guitar hum; the addition of a few simple, repeating piano chords underpins the wistful, even forlorn milieu.

“Laughing Celestial Architect” – cynical title notwithstanding – is a smoldering, pensive track akin to “Finale.” It starts with similar feedback and glacial guitars; but builds into an overwhelming sonic force that steadily adds layers of minimalist fingerpicked guitar progressions. The track ends with a two-and-a-half minute lacuna that allows only the faintest of birdsong and simplest of organ to waft through the silence. “Blood Fountain” closes the album with a contemplated (if mournful) melody that recalls Eluvium’s Similes with its plaintive vocals and delicate – but neither mild nor weak – guitar/piano unison. The song culminates in thunderous yet not chaotic percussion; a captivating end to this winsome, almost innocent side.

Which makes the counterpoint provided by Forbidden Planet all the more stronger. The Gorgon Tongue is such a great compilation because its halves are so strikingly different yet share enough common variables of drone, shoegaze, and heavy metal that one cannot help but believe they were supposed to be released together all along. If Impale Golden Horn is a pleasant hypnagogia, then Forbidden Planet is a nightmare. It’s a stark, blackened soundscape that broods instead of mourns; buzzes instead of hums; and disquiets instead of calms – yet it’s peaceful in its own right, too; much in the way that Sunn O)))’s sub-bass frequencies can lull listeners to sleep.

Forbidden Planet is one of the most overtly-black metal releases in Miller’s discography. Each song – with the exception of coda “Introducing Blind Angels” – features Miller’s heavily processed blackened whisper-growl that will be familiar to fans of Agalloch. Unlike Impale Golden Horn, which has four very distinct tracks, Forbidden Planet is presented as a single piece with several sections delineated by subtle changes in composition; for example, the sublimation of the chainsaw riffs present on opener “Veil of Maya (The Lamb Takes the Lion)” into the squalling noise, shadowy guitar fuzz, and throbbing bass of the first two parts of “A High Ashen Breeze.”

Following a climax of noise that terminates “A High Ashen Breeze Pt. 2,” Miller gets the closest thing he’s ever been thus far in his career to something that resembles traditional heavy metal with “Alabaster Shithouse.” The track strips down the obfuscation to reveal an audible tremolo-picked black metal riff that fades back into the gray upon the beginning of “A High Ashen Breeze Pt. 3,” which operates on the same formula as its previous namesakes with the addition of dim, squealing feedback. “Introducing Blind Angels” ends the set with a brief three minutes of quiet recovery with a muted version of the previously punishing guitars, like the retinal after-image produced from staring into the sun unblinking.

The Gorgon Tongue is highly recommended.1

Disc 1 – Impale Golden Horn:
1. Finale – (17:00) – ★★★★★
2. The Golden Horn – (7:50) – ★★★★★
3. Laughing Celestial Architect – (15:16) – ★★★★☆
4. Blood Fountain – (8:29) – ★★★★☆

Disc 2 – Forbidden Planet:
1. Veil of Maya (The Lamb Takes the Lion) – (5:31) – ★★★★★
2. A High Ashen Breeze, Pt. 1 – (7:42) – ★★★★★
3. A High Ashen Breeze, Pt. 2 – (6:40) – ★★★★★
4. Alabaster Shithouse – (4:47) – ★★★★★
5. A High Ashen Breeze, Pt. 3 – (8:14) – ★★★★☆
6. Introducing Blind Angels – (3:13) – ★★★★☆

Overall: ★★★★½

1For more information on The Gorgon Tongue‘s album artwork, check out this feature by Decibel Magazine: http://decibelmagazine.com/blog/gnarly-one-offs/cover-art-the-making-of-horsebacks-the-gorgon-tongue

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