I’m going out with a bang on my last review of the year. Well, maybe more like a cannonball fired into a vat of molasses. This eponymous debut from southern sludge band Thunder Horse packs a wallop, kind of like being struck on the side of the head by, oh, I don’t know, a Crowbar? One look at that album cover should tell us what we’re in for. The artwork courtesy of uber-talented Pig Hands screams brute power, and that’s what Thunder Horse deliver-with a few variants we don’t usually see in the world of sludge. And after an unspectacular run of albums (really, one good one in the last three months), I like the idea of going out with a bang.
Born from the currently slumbering Texas industrial metal band Pitbull Daycare, Thunder Horse feature that band’s vocalist, Stephen Bishop, and guitarist, TC Connally. Murderdolls touring drummer Shakes West and 12-string bass master Dave Crow round out the band. This industrial background adds a bit of spice to the usual sludgy goings-on. Bishop’s vocal delivery has a distinctively acerbic, punk tinge to it, almost like having Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell singing for Crowbar. The band’s penchant for dropping soundbites from The Longest Day and the Fargo TV series adds one more dimension to the songs, often opening the songs with a quote, or, like in the middle of “Coming Home,” dropping in an “I’ll be brief: when I’m finished, I shall kill you” clip to shake things up.
Soundbite gimmickry wouldn’t work if the songs themselves didn’t hold up, and for the most part these six songs kick ass. “Coming Home” is the opener, and it features massive, doom-ridden melodies and an eerie bridge. Crow’s 12-string bass punches above its weight class, thickening up the songs to a delightful degree, while West’s drums, although over-compressed, bring plenty of boomy power to the songs as well. “Blood Ritual,” while drawn out at first and perhaps the album’s weakest cut, is still thick, juicy doom, and as with every song here, features an outstanding guitar solo. “Demons Speak” attacks with a killer bass riff and speaker-shredding guitars, and at under five minutes is the shortest (and best) song on the album, while on the longest, the nine-minute “This is the End,” the band channels their inner Black Sabbath to a highly effective degree.
While there are no duds on Thunder Horse, there are still areas for the band to sharpen up for their next outing. The drums definitely have that over-compressed sound going on, which becomes distracting after a while, and Bishop tends to utilize the same vocal melodies throughout the songs. Changing those up would strengthen the compositions. Otherwise, I find it hard to nitpick what Thunder Horse have produced here. I’m a huge fan of Down’s Nola, and this is takes that formula, adds in a healthy dose of doom and early Crowbar, and enough variety in the song arrangements (and soundbites) that our attention rarely wavers.
It’s rare to land a decent album in December for reviewing, but Thunder Horse have dropped a highly enjoyable slab of sludge on my front door. Considering the band members’ backgrounds, I didn’t go into Thunder Horse with the highest expectations, but I was more than pleasantly surprised. Catchy grooves, thick riffs, a solid vocal performance, and enough twists and turns to keep things interesting meant I was more than happy to keep spinning this album longer than I had to, and that’s the sign of a good record. While there’s always the chance that other projects could pull these guys in different directions, here’s to hoping Thunder Horse stick around. I’m looking forward to what “message to the wicked” might come next.