Strange Horizon – Beyond the Strange Horizon Review

As a child of the 80s metal scene, I grew to statuesque manhood marinating in the sounds of Pentagram and Saint Vitus. Those 80s doom titans are still near and dear to me and any act that tries to recapture the sound of that era has me as an ally. Norway’s Strange Horizon are one such band, striving to recapture that classic doom magic on debut Beyond the Strange Horizon. Nods to Black Sabbath are inevitable, but their wonky, oftentimes trippy style hews closer to what Pentagram and Saint Vitus were doing in the 80s, with a smattering of Reverend Bizarre (they’re named after a song of theirs) and Witchfinder General sprinkled in for maximum Satan. With so much built-in goodwill, it would seem Strange Horizon start the race halfway to the much sought-after Steel ov Approval. Well, there’s a reason why we actually listen to these promo things we get sent.

Mere moments into opener “Tower of Stone,” I found myself both attracted and repelled by what was going on. The rocking doom swagger of Pentagram is very present, and the bass is prominent and powerful. Frontman Qvillio’s vocals are weird and offbeat, sitting someplace between Bobby Liebling and Dead Kennedys‘ Jello Biafra of all people, but they kind of work in this context. There are some spiffy riffs and interestingly jammy, trippy solos, but the overall song structure is very loose and some transitions are awkward and unpolished. The song is fun, but foundational cracks are exposed as it rumbles along. Those cracks become more glaring on followup cuts like “Fake Templar,” which starts with nearly the exact same riff that opens Saint Vitus‘ eponymous classic. From there it wanders across the Great Desert of Doom lost and unfocused. There are guitar pieces I enjoy along with interesting vocal choices, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. “The Final Vision” is worse, with awkward leaps between segments and a general feeling of doom malaise sets in.

The 8 minutes of “Divine Fear” are a slog, and made all the more frustrating by the presence of certain moments that really pop and grab you before they’re dragged down in a sea of recycled Saint Vitus riffs, with the same one from “Fake Templar” reoccurring at the song’s conclusion for reasons unknown beyond tempting a copyright fight. 9-minute closer “Death in Ice Valley” suffers from all the same issues, again teasing with quality bits while walloping the listener with bad choices, awkward construction and rough transitions between ideas. You can’t help but suspect there’s a few good doom songs hidden amongst the album’s 49 minutes, but they would require medical intervention to cut them out. For example, the last 3 minutes of “Death in Ice Valley” really sizzle, but the rest, not so much. As a whole, the album ends up feeling longer than its runtime, and the two mammoth tracks need major reconstructive surgery.

As a guitarist, Qvillio has admirable traits. He generates a series of fun doom rock riffs, though his penchant for copying/paying homage to actual riffs from doom classics should be left on the side of the lost highway. His jamming solo work is more endearing and makes me want to tussle with Bongzilla in a beanbag futon whilst staring at blacklight posters of panthers and scantily-clad warrior princesses. His vocals however are a love or hate proposition. While doom has always attracted quirky frontmen, he oftentimes takes the quirk too far, sounding silly and cartoonish like a mascot for a kids’ breakfast cereal. Christer S. Lindesteg’s bass is in your face and appropriately heavy and oppressive, and there’s a bit of Geezer Butler in the delivery, giving the songs a charming low-end charm. The big problem is the patchwork songcraft. There’s an unpolished, amateur quality to how the material is presented and it often overcomes the entertaining musicianship. With tighter, more focused writing the style of music they play could really jump off the vinyl at you.

While I can’t bring myself to recommend Beyond the Strange Horizon, I do hear a good deal of potential in the band’s playing. They’re a young act still working out the kinks, and they need look no further than to what their countrymen Saint Karloff did on Interstellar Voodoo for inspiration, and that was a single freakin’ 40-minute tune. I’ll be watching for developments, but for now, these horizons are too strange for me to get beyond.


Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps Mp3
Label: Apollon Records
Websites: strangehorizon.bandcamp.com  | facebook.com/strangehorizonbergen
Releases Worldwide: May 6th, 2022

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