During my short tenure at AMG, I’ve discovered the magical terror that is the Promo Bin. While it is a World War I-esque no man’s land of one-man black metal carpet bombs, awkwardly rumbling deathcore tanks, nu-metal mustard gas, and experimental drone-doom PTSD, you can find some gems in the trenches while the good Lord Himself picks us, contributors, off one by one.1 It’s a trve and rvthless battle of good vs. evil, light vs. dark, Jedi vs. Sith, Kramer vs. Kramer, power metal vs. actual metal. It’s all about balance, after all. Beginning with 2017 debut Light and Death, this balance is a clear focus to Austin, Texas sludge/noise/black metal/whatever act Glassing. Their Brutal Panda sophomore album Spotted Horse, which they describe as “fast slow medium dark happy chill gnarly” (while inviting others to interpret it in their own ways), truly embodies all these descriptors and more in a portrayal of stillness and violence.
While comparisons to noise-oriented sludgemeisters such as Kowloon Walled City and Old Man Gloom are warranted, the Glassing project is still extremely difficult to pin down. One minute they’re pummeling you with Thou-esque molasses-thick sludge/doom riffs in chaotic rhythms, the next caressing eardrums with post-rock influenced melodic plucking that would make Continuance or Milanku jealous, with Frontierer-inspired mathy freak-outs scattered in between. The vocals range from tortured blackened howls to barking hardcore shouts, giving a sense of desperation and fury, while layers of feedback and ambiance paint the background. Their titanic post-metal songwriting is also of note, recalling the sprawling epics of Isis or the dense chaos of The Ocean. With such an expansive range of influences, does Spotted Horse make its own mark or will it just add to the noise?
While imperfect, Glassing‘s sophomore album hones what made Light and Death effective and tightens up the loose ends, releasing one of the most unique sounds in recent memory, a true gem found in promo bin sludge. Tracks like sprawling opener “When You Stare,” mathy spazz-out “Lobe,” blackened blaster “Sleeper,” and doomy “Way Out” feature balls-to-the-wall sludge riffs that pair eerily well with the reverb-laden melodic guitars atop. On the flip-side, while still reveling in ragged textures, tracks such as the howling and hollow “Follow Through,” interludes “Coven” and “Fatigue,” and surprisingly serene closer “The Wound is Where the Light Enters” display a focus of meditation and peace, an eye of the hurricane. The clear highlight of Spotted Horse is centerpiece “A Good Death,” its use of ambiance, melody, mathy freakouts, blackened blastbeats, and devastating riffs (and the seamless transitions between each) painting Glassing at their best: a fusion of serrated and smooth that is nonetheless bloodletting. It shows each member’s respective technical prowess clear as day, powerful in each’s own right, but more than the sum of its parts in beauty and heft.
The only flaw Spotted Horse has is its songwriting, which is nonetheless crucial. While each passage is executed with precision and chaos in stunning measure, the transitions between them often lack cohesion. Tracks like “When You Stare” or “Bronze” feel like novelty tracks at times, with riffs and melody awkwardly juxtaposed to generate shock, and are incongruous from one passage to another. Their lack of effective transitioning shows that Glassing is a young band still honing their craft, after all and Spotted Horse remains another stepping stone toward the pinnacle. Even so, the purpose of the album is its irregularity, so this is easily forgivable.
Spotted Horse is a simultaneously serene and jagged work, weaving its influences and strengths into a complex palette of meditation and devastation. It’s a fantastic successor to Light and Death and improves upon it in every way, and a monument to sludge metal or, like, whatever this is. In spite of its originality, it nonetheless shows that the band’s youth still rears its baby-faced head in their jarring transitions. But in light of the refreshing sound and striking balance of beauty and brutality, it’s easy to forgive and even easier to enjoy. Much as the Good Lord’s bullets of good taste rip through contributor skulls everywhere, Glassing indeed hits the sweet spot.