Just as those proponents of the early 20th Century avant-garde cultural movement that seeked to release the creative potential of the subconscious mind called themselves “Surrealists”, Horseback mastermind Jenks Miller probably thinks of himself as one too when it comes to this eclectic project of his which fuses psychedelia, drone metal, and noise music together.
Try searching for Horseback on Metal-Archives.com and not a single entry turns up. That’s pixel proof that this band is something else compared to most other metal bands, at least to Internet-savvy critics such as yours truly (who sees Metal-Archives.com as the Britannica of heavy metal research). As always, the cover artwork is beautifully done and perfectly compliments Miller’s surrealist tunes. The amorphous mass featured in the artwork looks like an emaciated bull with the skeleton of a human torso sitting atop it, and it looks as though some kind of weird snake with two horns is the cause for the bull’s emaciation as it seems to be biting its right leg and sucking either blood or nutrients or Coca-Cola or motor oil out of it—I don’t know, it’s supposed to be surrealist? Remember? Perceive what your own subconscious mind wants to see from the above imagery.
The lyrical theme is spontaneous as well, judging from the track titles which make references to mythical gods, warriors and demons from various cultures; and check out that three-part story of an extinct genus of animal ending off the record too, dreamily titled “Hallucigenia I: Hermetic Gifts”, “Hallucigenia II: Spiritual Junk” and “Hallucigenia III: The Emerald Tablet”. While this is actually a good thing since it goes in line with what the whole “surrealist” thing is about, it seems slightly on the “normal” side. The music Miller comes up with sounds so dreamy and drowsy, yet the lyrical theme is about mythical beings and an extinct type of creature that would have looked very unreal if it still existed today? That sounds like something a normal extinct-civilization-themed death metal band would do! Miller should be able to do better than that. If one makes music with the intention to replicate the effects of mind-altering drugs in a legal and comfortable way, at least make the lyrical theme of a similar but more exciting nature! Talk about pink fuzzyback bees! Scuba-diving cars! Dogs sipping coffee in an asylum! Fishing for mobile phones in a sea of telephones with an electromagnet as the hook! Think of the nostrils as upside down manhole covers! I don’t know… come up with something bordering on the nonsensical yet mindblowing in a beautifully twisted way!
The music is druglike and a perfect soundtrack to doing your household chores in your nightmares, of course, and the guitars are so watered-down and secondary that the bass guitar can actually be heard very clearly throughout most tracks. The bass guitar plays in the manner of traditional blues rock (ie. the rhythmic pattern is simple, repetitive and catchy), and Miller’s hoarse growls lingering in the backdrop complement it really well. Noise music elements such as that mechanical sound sampling heard at the beginning of “Inheritance (The Changeling)” and that fuzzy droning on a crescendo in “Hallucigenia II: Spiritual Junk” add a sense of desolation to the aural experience of listening to this record, and it’s good because it leads to introspection and introspection is what should mainly come out of a surreal experience. The hypnotic flourishes of the synth are not to be overlooked too, for they contribute as much to the dreamy quality of Horseback’s sound on this record as the bass guitar, vocals and noise elements do. Their calm yet celestial presence can be felt most strongly on the tracks “Mithras”, “Inheritance (The Changeling)”, “Hallucigenia I: Hermetic Gifts”, “Hallucigenia II: Spiritual Junk” and “Hallucigenia III: The Emerald Tablet”, and they will weave hypnagogic mental scenarios such as you dozing off on a coffee table somewhere in Silent Hill, or something else along that line.
Un-metal as Horseback is, what Miller is doing is avant-garde, unusual and musically coherent enough to be considered “metal” in the Happy Metal Book [Cough – AMG]. Apart from the boring lyrical subject matter, this is good aural dope to get high on when the urge to achieve introspective orgasm materializes. It doesn’t require cleaning up like the real thing does, so economical!