THE PALE HORSE by Ancient Warfare
Favorite Tracks: “Darlin”, “Dreamcatcher”
Everything considered, 2015’s been a pretty damn good year for country. I’m sure fans of the genre will attest that every year’s a good year for country, but for the observer that finds themselves on the outside looking into one of the most inconceivably popular genres in the annals of music, 2015’s been the only year where country is willing to meet us halfway. Jason Isbell combined it with singer/songwriter sensibilities and a hefty dose of folky Americana to have SOMETHING MORE THAN FREE become one of the more palatable albums of the year, while Kacey Musgraves continued her unprecedented critical trajectory with PAGEANT MATERIAL. Unfortunately, Ancient Warfare (who already aren’t doing themselves any favors with a band name that seems to befit a war metal act) combine country with gothic sensibilities, yielding a dreary, molasses-slow effort that almost instantly becomes recyclable, never picking up from a lurch.
The album’s highpoint occurs during its first two tracks, which initially fills the listener with hope, but soon becomes disappointing. Opener “Darlin” is smoky and piano-heavy, with instrumentation reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie, in addition to gender-fluid vocals that add a mysterious sense of androgyny to the proceedings.
Entirely obsessed with death, the mood isn’t pushed towards a lighter conclusion by its successor, “Dreamcatcher”, which features a comparatively aggressive tribal drum pattern, a vocal part that references American pop staple “All I Have to Do is Dream”, and a progression into a cymbal-heavy jam towards the end.
Unfortunately, that’s about the last time Ancient Warfare manage to rustle up much to say in their favor. Although “Gunsmoke” features another nod to the aesthetics of decades past with its 50s dancehall, it soon becomes unmemorable, a trait shared with the milquetoast adult contemporary of “The Last Living Trial”. Vocalist Echo Wilcox turns in the same performance track after track, falling between a rock and a hard place; the songs are often too sweet and lilting to grab the attention, but just a touch too biting to make their way onto a breakup playlist. “Wintertimes” manages to slightly redeem the album towards the end with its menacing bass strum and a more aggressive guitar, but typically, Ancient Warfare is staggering and stumbling their way to each downbeat at a zombie-like pace.
Although it’s easy to see why Ancient Warfare has previously opened for acts such as The Raveonettes, The War on Drugs, and Chelsea Wolfe, they lack the maturity and raw songwriting talent of their more talented peers. Although gothic country has demonstrated its prowess in the past (let’s throw it all the way back to 1996 with SIXTEEN HORSEPOWER), as THE PALE HORSE demonstrates, it runs a high risk of becoming incessantly humdrum. Although the themes of ghostly decay are ostensibly intentional, the only thing that really manages to disintegrate is the interest of the listener.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend