Every now and then, a band comes along and I’m utterly at a loss for how to classify them in the official Steel Druhm Book O™ Metal [That’s what you get for not using the Angry Book o’ Metal Classifications, n00b. – AMG]. Generally, this causes me anger and vexation, but I always give a nod of appreciation for the bands that resist easy classification. The latest recipient of the nod is Gift Horse, the second album by Mose Giganticus, for they have truly baffled my considerable pigeonholing acumen. They have forced even me to admit I’m stumped. Mose Giganticus is apparently a one-man entity created by Matthew Garfield, a staple of the Philly punk rock scene for some time. While some of that punk ethos is apparent on Gift Horse, this isn’t exactly a punk album. What is it then? Good question!! Let’s try to piece this puzzle together shall we?
Mr. Garfield has crafted a sound on Gift Horse that borrows liberally from stoner, sludge, doom, hardcore, classic rock and even elements of electronica and tosses it all into a thick, gooey heap while hoping for the best. This mix and match compositional approach yields some uneven results across the seven tracks on offer here but nobody should fault the man for trying to create something a little bit different and unique. While lead track “Last Resort” is a pretty straight ahead rocker that lets the riffs do the talking a la Fireball Ministry and Kyuss, about half way through you get some oddball vocoder effects to let you know to expect the unexpected. Elsewhere, dramatic synth lines fight for living space alongside heavy stoner/rock guitar riffs (“Left Hand Path”) and in other spots, strange, trippy 1970s organ and keyboard segments are combined with gruff, near death metal vocals (“Days of Yore”).
The highlight of the album to these humble ears is “The Seventh Seal,” which starts life as a plodding and stomping beast with powerfully emotional vocals [Courtesy of Phil Collins by way of Genesis song “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” from The Invisible Touch. – AMG] (vocoder and all) but the money maker is the powerhouse riff that comes in at 2:30 and lays waste through repetition. This baby just hammers away at you until you love it or run away. Seriously, if it went on for ten minutes, I would be OK with that. It’s that cool!
So where are we? I still have no fucking clue what to call this gift horse of another name. Progressive stoner metal? Synth Sludge? Whatever label you slap on this baby, you can’t deny it’s an interesting oddity. Mose Giganticus is most successful when they find a solid way to combine the heavy guitars and synth lines and let them entwine and really play off each other (see the beginning of “White Horse” for a perfect example). Thankfully, this is the case more often than not on Gift Horse. The vocals of Mr. Garfield tend to hover in the gruff singing style and are admittedly one-dimensional but they work pretty well throughout. Sure, some variety would be nice (Cynic fans will take great umbrage but I don’t count vocoder segments as variety) but overall, the vocals are decently suited to the music and don’t detract from it in a major way.
After repeated spins, Gift Horse remains an enigma, wrapped in a riddle and coated with mystery dust. Is it a complete musical triumph? No, it isn’t, but it is different and unique and has a lot going for it. Also, it’s definitely a grower of an album and the more you hear it, the more you notice interesting ideas and details. Takes this thing for a ride and you may be happily surprised.