Miller takes Horseback to new, stranger psychedelic areas on wildly captivating ‘Dead Ringers’

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 presetTo the chagrin of a lot of “purists,” metal is a genre that can be stretched far and wide. It doesn’t have to sound any particular way, anyone can play it as long as they’re powerful enough, and the many new shades thrown into it has made this style even more enriching. I love brutal and mangling as much as the next person, but blasting off into new terrain can be just as enthralling.

That verbiage leads us into the coverage of a new record from Horseback called “Dead Ringers.” Long the project of Chapel Hill, N.C., musician Jenks Miller, we’ve witnessed Horseback go in all sorts of directions, mostly of the mysterious and ashy black metal way. But as time has gone on and Miller has immersed himself into different styles of music, Horseback has developed along with him. “Dead Ringers” is his most diverse, expansive collection ever, and it’s the furthest away from what most would consider pure heavy metal. But no matter because it’s a mesmerizing, hypnotic effort that claims you and twists you through this entire ride. It’s eight tracks of deep psychedelics, doom, and Miller’s most direct vocals ever, eschewing the low rumbling growl for actual singing that brings a new dimension into this band’s world. It’s different, but it’s quite interesting.

12 Jacket (Gatefold - Two Pocket) [GD30OB2-N]Over the years, Miller has helmed Horseback on his own and with other collaborators, twisted it to his psyche, and made it into one of metal’s more intriguing projects. Miller also plays guitar in traditional country band Mount Moriah (heavily recommended, if you’re not familiar), and some of his work there seems to bleed into moments of “Dead Ringers.” That’s a welcome addition, as it lends more texture and emotion to the music, and also hints at Miller’s own creative evolution. This record might take even the more hardcore Horseback fans a little time to fully digest, but once you do, you might find yourself returning again and again to take this intoxicating, mentally altering experience.

The record begins with “Modern Pull,” where weird keys assemble, guitars hum, and a psychedelic whir barrels into the mix. “The pleasure dome is waiting,” Miller sings ominously, while the guitars take on a Southern feel (remember when I mentioned Mount Moriah?), and synth and noise zap this closed. “Shape of the One Thing” has keys echoing and a trippy, sunburnt sense, where it feels like your head is starting to spin. The singing is strange here, with synth blurting, and Miller later poking, “We’ll keep repeating, it’s only for you,” with a twinge of Roger Waters edge to his delivery. “A Bolt From Blue” starts amid chimes, with the path going right through a dusty trail and the keys sounding like sirens. Surfy guitars bubble up, with the singing rolling gently, and the pace seeming unsettlingly strange. “The Cord Itself” packs spacey synth passages, static beats, and guitars stretching. A sorrowful organ lathers with tears, while guitars fire up, and a dialog that reminds of an Apocalyptic preacher snaps your attention and pulls you into the song’s closing sound bath.

“Lion Killer” lets keys smear, as a rhythmic pace drives right into a thick drone. “Fooled again,” Miller strikes, while the guitars punch back and swing into echoes, and the track later fades into a mysterious weirdness. “In and Out of Form” has guitars chugging, with Miller charging, “I change, but you don’t notice.” Well, musically, how could we not notice? Anyhow, the singing is smooth, interrupted here and there by hoots, and the song spends its time building a wall of intensity, bubbling up, spilling over, and letting guitars jab and sounds swell right to its finish. “Larkspur” is a really odd one amid a collection of strange cuts, with keys swirling the Milky Way, guitars taking on jittery and sometimes Bluegrass-fed melodies, and Miller talking away, almost as if he’s in the midst of a medicine-induced dream. Then the 16:40-long finale “Descended From the Crown” arrives, with unsettling noises, hippie-style guitar patterns, and a slew of racket situated behind everything. In the middle of all of this, the singing becomes a part of the puzzle, as beats kick up and then fade, weird jolts slice your flesh, and mind-erasing fog settles over everything. Guitars babble on like a fresh stream on its way to a new destination, and hazy soundwaves breeze into the final moments, where everything dissolves in a mid-air crash.

It sounds like a cliché to say this, but there’s no telling where Miller will take Horseback next, and that’s one of the reasons it’s so much fun to follow this project. “Dead Ringers” is a total excursion into deep space, with your brain submitting to whatever forces are spinning it and you enjoying every moment. It’s the biggest sudden curve of this band’s storied run and one that just might reshape the future of Horseback’s creativity.

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