Medicine Horse – Medicine Horse Review

There’s no right way to honor your own ancestry, especially when so much of what you could know about the ‘right way’ has eroded. Such is the plight of many Indigenous or other disprivileged peoples in North America, even in areas like Oklahoma where the concentration of descendants of many Tribal Nations remains high. Medicine Horse hails from these lands choosing to honor themselves and their chosen traditions the way that comes most naturally—heavy fuckin’ metal. Sure the plains-folk didn’t have double-kicks or amp stacks, but can you imagine if they did? Maybe we would have gotten sooner this curious doom/sludge amalgamation whose promo notes drop names like Crowbar, Windhand, Down and encourages to “burn weed, cedar, and sage.” These Tulsa Natives and I may not be of the same ancestral blood,1 but after reading those words, I like to think they’re at least my people in spirit. Though Medicine Horse may easily convince me to head down to these murky, amplified waters, can they make me drink the sludge?

Contrary to popular belief, sludge can be good, and this sludge definitely is. Not only does Medicine Horse represent Indigenous people in metal beyond black metal,2 but this bluesy brand of hard-grooving doom/sludge hits the Corrosion of Conformity niche too. Whether it’s the classic Deliverance groove of opening jam “Dead Medicine” or the chug-to-blitz of mid-album cut “Badlands,” Medicine Horse supplies plenty of Southern stomp against its myriad of thick riffs and doom-addled atmospheres. And as the band promises, a Crowbar shuffle brings to life “Turning Tide” and a Windhand narrative holds together longer offerings “Letiche” and “She,” but Medicine Horse has plenty of their own twists on these tested sounds.

Importantly Medicine Horse works to establish well-introduced narratives and important themes into their work while never losing track of the music. Normally, an interlude like “Swamp Interlude” could come off a bit hokey, but in the context of this Southern rock-kissed environment, the subtle rhythm backing against the wispy elucidation of the Cajun/Native folklore Letiche3 lands. And just as well the listener may need the explanation since “Letiche” rolls across largely in a Creole Sprechgesang—the context of the interlude simply draws us in. We don’t get the same treatment as we enter the massive closing number “Kuwa Detlukv,” which vocalist Nico Williams delivers in the endangered, wispy Cherokee tongue.4 However the establishing melody delivered with a summoning hand percussion and flute-imitating warble stands ready to clear the pit for a circle dance. With hazy moods that border psychedelic, it’s easy to get lost in Williams’ monstrous roars and lilting, hypnotic croon.

Conviction drives the sell for much of what Medicine Horse offers, a necessary touch in the wake of a few production choices that leave some moments musically lower impact. Notably, sludge as a genre necessitates loud volume for maximum enjoyment. This doesn’t equate to a loud master necessarily, but each tone should scale well. On numbers that are crunchy guitar forward (“Dead Medicine,” “Turning Tides,” “Badlands”), cranked speakers and headphones alike begin to produce a noticeable crackle when riffs collide crash cymbal smashes. Williams on the mic and the low-end of the rhythm section (kick and bass) gain power with volume, at least, on the longer, doomier numbers, but even still when these tracks step into aggressive pushes, the distorted play of guitar and percussive alloys rears its ugly head. Though you might not notice on the highway with the windows rolled down.

A band this new to existence can hit the rawer end of the spectrum safely, especially when they construct an entrancing identity. Medicine Horse may not be re-writing the sludge handbook, but with unique, heritage-driven elements and solid, impassioned performance, this debut outing shines above sonically similar bands with less personality. And they’ve chosen wisely to team up with Horton Records, a label whose mission isn’t to promote any specific sound so much as to promote what the Tulsa, OK region has to offer—a community identity, which even released a diverse, all Cherokee language compilation on which Medicine Horse made its first recorded statement. With that kind of support, Medicine Horse, any minor flaws aside, finds itself in good hands. And with the kind of passion of all the involved members, we’d be wise to watch Medicine Horse for whatever else may come.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Horton Records | Bandcamp5
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: September 8th, 2023

Show 5 footnotes

  1. Mescalero Apache for me.
  2. Please, I really don’t want to listen to more black metal.
  3. Half human, half gator, all bayou.
  4. Approximately 2,000 or so fluent speakers remaining.
  5. This is where you can buy the album.
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