The Horror – Here, In The Shadows – Album Review
I kind of feel like this is the record I’ve been missing this year. Don’t get me wrong, every year I’ve spent in the independent music-scene I’ve found multiple highlights…2018 is no exception to that rule, there’s been some great records that have come through this year; but none that I can recall standing out in the instrumental section…I feel like it’s been a while. Looking over the notes & social-media, websites etc. of Baltimore’s The Horror…there’s some stuff that stood out to me as important to note so we’re all on the same page. The Horror is a two-piece band that sounds enormous…that’s a fact; cousins Alex Wachter and Jeff Zuback have been kicking ass musically for years…it’s only now that they’re finally releasing this beast into the world with their debut record. With listed influences as widespread as Nine Inch Nails to Joe Satriani – it’s pretty damn safe to say that they cover a large spread of sound over the course of the eleven-song, eighty-six minute epic record…and though they haven’t officially been out there in the scene until just this year, it’s completely clear from the way these two have dialed in their ideas into massive structures so tightly that you can tell they’ve probably been ready for quite a while already. Gotta feel good to get Here, In The Shadows out and into the light.
Aside from listing Metallica as the first influence we see, I’ve got no beef with anything else I’ve read or heard from The Horror…they’re quite an ambitious, talented, and effective duo. One thing stood out to me more than anything else though while I was reading about this project…it was a line that I felt told me everything I needed to know. It read: “We truly feel we have something unique to put out there as we wouldn’t have come this far if we didn’t.” Given that you somewhat know their history as well as I do at this point…I think there’s merit in those words that should be considered; they’ve been cousins for many years I’m sure, if not their entire lives – so keep in mind, they COULD have put out a record at any time…you don’t develop skills like these overnight. The Horror took its time, refined its idea & vision, and waited in the wings until each moment was cooked to perfection…and the results are a freakin’ riot to listen to. As versatile as it is imaginative – Here, In The Shadows delivers intense audio satisfaction.
The ominous opening drone of “The Forgotten Way” puts out that spine tingling vibe, alongside guitars that hint at something even bigger to come; as it continues to build cleverly, The Horror EXPLODES just past the ninety-second mark and lets the next thirty seconds blow your mind open. The massive cymbals or straight-up gong-like sounds in the mix, the slightly eastern-twinge to that main guitar hook that shows up throughout “The Forgotten Way” – it’s all highly interesting to listen to and a clear indication that their widespread range of influences are indeed an asset in creating their own sound. The drums pound with fury, the guitars scorch the earth, the movements are complex, but they transition together like a tight unit. As the energy proceeds to invade this first cut, The Horror has put more into this first tune than most bands put into their entire first record…if you dig your instrumental rock, this album is seriously worth a spin or several. “The Forgotten Way” gets decidedly more intense the longer it plays on…you can really hear the undeniable passion in this project from the way this first tune develops and just how much they’ve put into it – The Horror clearly ain’t messin’ around yo.
“Melee” is exactly what its title implies…fusion…a jumbo audio gumbo…a melting pot of red hot sound. What I loved about this tune is the all-outness of it all…like, once these guys tick past the thirty-five second mark, you can hear it’s GAME ON – and man, this cut gets WILD. What I also really dig though, is that just like its title promises us, you really do get a smorgasbord of sound here. You can hear respect for classic-rock sound, style & production at points, you can hear intensely modern-day ideas and creativity that couldn’t have even been imagined back then, you can hear the killer psychedelic groove-rock they tap into here and how they’re embracing the madness full speed inside progressive ambitions. Bass-tones are HUGE and looming large – drums are untamed and beastly – but those guitars from Alex…man…they steal the whole show on this epic sonic freakout. LISTEN to the solo around the four minute mark and the snap-back into the rhythm…the way that Jeff comes back like a prizefighter landing a whole series of lefts & rights as they punch back into a unified front…seriously badass to listen to. I like that “Melee” doesn’t sound over-refined either…there’s a lot of coloring outside of the lines here if you were to examine this cut under the most intense microscope – BUT…it really adds this organic element to the entire sound & style of The Horror that adds to the franticness of the moment. Almost like they challenge themselves in similar ways to like, what daredevils do…you know, how they keep us on the edge of our seat wondering if they’re going to be able to hang onto that single rope before falling to their doom or pick the lock to escape a tank of water before they run out of air. With the amount of energy, skill, and sound these two pack into a track like “Melee” – you’d figure they have an oxygen tank onhand just in case…because to me, this is what putting everything you got into a track sounds like. If you’re depleted or dehydrated by the end of such a pursuit, so be it for an honorable & worthy cause.
By the time “Passage” starts, you should have the idea by now – The Horror doesn’t write SONGS – they write straight-up SONIC ADVENTURES. I can’t even begin to explain how rad & badass something like this song is to you people – this is why music needs to be experienced and not just talked about or written about. As much as there’s anything I can say to support what’s happening here…it’s tracks like “Passage” that really speak to the potential, capabilities, and future possibilities for The Horror. I mean, we’re talking about a MASSIVE structure here that’s over nine-minutes long…I think there’s like, one spot maybe around the five & a half minute mark somewhere that I kind of questioned a bit, but even that led directly into one of the most impressive guitar highlights you’ll hear on this entire record. There are multiple ideas in this single tune without question…the opening intensity of the rhythm & groove rips along at a smooth & subtle pace, perfect keyboard additions being made along the way to really enhance the D&B vibe this song begins with. The Horror works this low-end infused sorcery for the first three-plus minutes or so…and then specifically, right at the 3:42, they blew my audio-lovin’ MIND OPEN with brilliant textures popping out like 3D in the mix as the entire sound dials back and spreads out into its second gear. Or sixteenth or seventieth gear arguably, I get it, I get it…but they’ll know what I mean. They head impressively into Blues-Rock for a moment or two before heading back into a progressive breakdown and keyboard semi-solo…and then we’re back around full-circle to that 5:40-ish mark where that third gear kicks-in and Alex becomes possessed by his guitar in all the best of ways. “Passage” starts impressive, but it honestly goes on to become so much more by the time it’s done…the ever shifting dynamics & ideas these guys incorporate into their music are authentic and wild to experience. The final two-minutes of “Passage” heads into seriously focused & meaty terrain…it might be a somewhat more subtle groove than the part that directly precedes it, but by the very end of this tune, they’ll give themselves another shot at outdoing your expectations by finding another way to bring this track up to another level that rivals the energy beforehand. Serious depth to ideas like this – love it.
Up to this point, they’ve been fairly…not tame, but not like…actively inspiring fear or terror, know what I mean? You gotta figure it was only a matter of time…they are after all, called The Horror. “The Slumbering Lurking” releases some of that evil energy you probably assumed was coming for your bones at some point – and yet again, they’ve found another dimension of their sound that seriously works. This is fuckin’ HAUNTING people…gripping…this song clings to you like it’s trying to drag you six feet under. The intensity of the organs laced into this vibe definitely give it that added malevolence – it’s like all the spirits in the abandoned church hall decided to get together for one last jam! “The Slumbering Lurking” is a graphic audio-representation that brings that title to life and makes it real to us as listeners – thematically speaking, this sounds exactly like what that title would have you assume. Deadly guitars that rumble with crunch & distortion, organs that are beyond possessed and rocking the fuck out; the entire atmosphere of this song is about as wild as a song can get when it comes to executing the full-scope of an idea. That kick-in to the groove around the three-twenty mark is so beyond cool…the transition is stunning. For just two guys…again, I think you’ve gotta admire the work that’s been put into these songs – but take a moment to appreciate the amount of imagination & freakin’ follow-through it takes to bring something as beastly as this straight outta the grave and into your speakers. The Horror damn near dares you to listen to this track with the lights off…which is possible…I’m sure that if you sack up you man-nuts or lady-nuts you CAN do it…but that being said, best to wear your brown pants…just in case.
“Oozy” gives you a chance to catch to catch your breath after The Horror tried to steal it permanently with “The Slumbering Lurking.” This is the cut most likely to tip you off that they’ve indeed spent their time in the world of guitars with Satriani & Vai…but listen to how they make this relevant for right here & now. If you’ve ever grooved on an instrumental NIN track before, then really something like this isn’t too far off – especially not if you’ve seen Trent & crew play live…because “Oozy” is quite like that kind of interlude experience. And don’t get me wrong, not interlude in the sense that it’s any kind of shortened idea – The Horror don’t do SHORT people – it’s more like how the entire vibe & sound switches up dramatically from “The Slumbering Lurking” beforehand and “Flying Asleep” afterwards…it becomes that oddity & standout moment that has its own unique gravity pulling you in that’s unlike any other. Like a slow Blues-meets-Space-Rock jam…I felt like I could get lost in “Oozy” for days & days and never get tired of it…it’s so immaculately expressive – the kind of performance that Alex should be seriously proud of…because that’s the kind of connection to an instrument that just can’t be faked. He’s owning every note that comes out of his guitar with such remarkable control of the emotion put into it, shredding with speed & skill but nothing pretentious or uncalled for – and when it all crashes to an end just prior to the three-thirty mark, The Horror still find ways to carry on brilliantly from there. From where it starts, to where it builds to, to where it ends…”Oozy” is nothing if not magnificent the entire time…what a frickin’ badass song! Definitely one of my personal favorites from Here, In The Shadows.
I’ll admit, the smooth & subtle ending of “Oozy” makes that tinny, treble-laden sound in the production on “Flying Asleep” a bit tough to take at first…like getting doused with a glass of cold water when you were drifting away happily in your own thoughts. So…a bit jarring on those first couple spins…but once you get past that shock factor, you’ll likely settle into one of your favorite tracks on this album. There’s something highly celebratory about the spirit & energy of this cut that really captures the magic of what makes instrumental rock worthwhile to play…you can hear it in the tempo & enthusiastic beats via Jeff and certainly in the wildness of the wandering solos from Alex that roam throughout “Flying Asleep” at full-speed. Again giving that sense of like…tension I suppose you’d call it…dude just shreds and shreds at points throughout this song and you’ll wonder if he’s going to shred himself right into oblivion or miss the next bus stop for where the beat’s gonna switch – but that’s what might very well be the most impressive factor about these two cousins…they clearly know what to expect from each other at this point and they react in tandem. In their bio they mention how competition has always played a role in their relationship growing up – but that when it came to music, they’re on the same team – and to me, even at the loosest moments of “Flying Asleep” where they are just barely hanging on, they’re still in each and every second of this cut together; if one went over the cliff, the other would follow – but due to the sturdiness that two can supply versus one, they remain right on the edge and hang the fuck on. Really accessible melody in this cut and rhythms that’ll get the people amped-up out there – I could see a lot of people really digging “Flying Asleep” for the brightness they put into the music & vibe here.
Don’t get me wrong…I want to put it down on the record that I certainly think ending the record on a three-part EPIC as an ending is an impressive thing…especially ambitious on a debut record. But let’s also face facts – this is no ordinary debut. BUT! If we’re talking truths here…the “LEVIATHAN” series IS in three separated parts…I mean, they’ve almost created a radio-friendly length tune in there too that’s just under five minutes! So like, you know…I’m not accusing them of slacking off or anything…I’m just saying…they sure nutted up for “Valhalla” just prior to the series of their debut album finale and managed to put it all into one HUGE fourteen-plus minute experience – so what gives on “LEVIATHAN” – what’s the excuse for breaking it all up when they’re clearly capable of just hoofing out a FOURTEEN-PLUS minute track any time they want? Of course I’m just giving them a hard time because that’s what I do here in these reviews…you gotta have a sense of humor right? Bottom line is they end their album with two epic songs, or four epic songs; it doesn’t really matter how you do the math when the answer ends up equating to the same thing. “Valhalla” is quite the adventure when it comes right down to it – I had a few spins where I wasn’t quite as sure that it fit this record so much as it might have made for an amazing single on its own; it’s definitely different from the rest, but still furthers the story of sound that this band is creating and adding another dimension to it. You get about nine minutes or so of fairly tame behavior from The Horror with the occasional flare up of energy before they head charging into battle and wage war on the final five minutes as they surge into the heart of “Valhalla” and controlled chaos reigns supreme. It’s mainly through the ending of this cut that I felt like “Valhalla” still had a viable place on this record…up until that point, I’m not quite as sure; it’s a good tune and definitely the kind of song that takes you somewhere visually in your mind…as to whether or not I ultimately felt like it belonged on Here, In The Shadows, I wasn’t as sure. And then like, every time I thought that, I came back to the incredible final couple minutes and last transition that they make in “Valhalla” and I’m like, damn, how can you not include that? There are plenty of redeeming factors and it’s got quite a captivating & unique first nine minutes that really does attempt to do something different than the rest of what we’ve heard so far; the ending brings it back to what we’re starting to recognize as that signature wildness.
Anyhow. You’ll know I was kidding about The Horror potentially slacking on the “LEVIATHAN” series once the first part, “LEVIATHAN (Fall)” begins. This tune starts evilly shifting pitch in a way that’ll get the hairs on your neck to stand up and you’ll start bracing yourself. Justifiably so mind you, this song starts out as serious as a heart attack or your worst nightmare. Increasing the pace & tempo, along with your own heart-rate, The Horror takes you straight into hell through a wicked ride in the first two-minutes or so of this tune before they finally break for a moment to let you catch your breath & turn on the lights again. Crunchy mid-section of this tune, lots of starts/stops and furious intensity from the drums – listen to the thunder in those hits will ya? Jeff gonna put his boots through the floor and make sure he gets every cents worth of his money out of those drum skins & cymbals. Again, for all of just two pieces – this band makes a sound that could fill an entire stadium twice over – and they prove that immediately in the throes of the most intense moments on “LEVIATHAN (Fall)” before dropping everything altogether and letting piano take over in an inspired breakdown that leads into the serene sounds & atmosphere to follow. The peace won’t last long…the fire up the intensity and make the final two minutes of this first part of three memorable as fuck, storming to the end in a mix of post-rock/progressive explosiveness.
That mid-section piano moment on “LEVIATHAN (Fall)” and the opening on “LEVIATHAN (Rise)” really communicate the emotion & expression that you can hear in his guitar work, leaving you certain that this is a musician that seriously understands music on several levels. It definitely shows throughout the wild material on Here, In The Shadows – but the depth of understanding is often revealed in the most subtle moments where the melody is right in the spotlight like the opening of “LEVIATHAN (Rise).” With the piano melody threaded into the mix, this song really hits a sweet spot on the record. But somewhere around the third minute of this second chapter of “LEVIATHAN” – MAN does it make all the difference to this tune when it shows back up as a more prevalent part of the melody. I think the hooks those keys provide are likely the main aspect of this song that people are going to hear…rightly so; there’s a ton of great energy on this cut, but a captivating hook is a captivating hook and that’s what they’ve found right there in the way this sound complements the entire vibe, if not becomes the driving force for what creates the mass appeal in this particular tune.
The serenity of the final part of the three-piece epic “LEVIATHAN” series comes to a brutal halt just prior to the end of the first minute as The Horror straps on boots big enough to stomp your village out once & for all on “LEVIATHAN (Endure).” For the next several minutes to the end, they’ll continue to crunch your bones to dust whilst rampaging through an adrenaline fueled performance that holds nothing back. Jeff somehow hasn’t pounded ALL the life out of his drums yet, so he makes sure to drive what’s left of them into the dirt as they set this final cut on fire with Alex searing guitar solos and pounding out piano keys. The low-end crunch of this track is so wickedly satisfying to the ears…it’s BEEFY…which really allows for those guitars to stand out as we listen and things get even wilder throughout the fourth minute. Smart production…which, you got it, is something ELSE that this duo handled in their efforts along the way – start to finish, what you hear has been created by two dudes that genuinely know how to handle their business from every possible aspect. “LEVIATHAN (Endure)” pounds and thunders with power and conviction as The Horror rages towards the end of their debut record – they’ve been incredibly impressive throughout the distance of this entire album and put in a noteworthy effort that speaks volumes louder than any one of their tracks will, no matter how high you turn’em up; you don’t get this involved and invested into songs this gigantic, epic, complex and ambitious unless you’re right into the art. Because ultimately…no matter how beastly or gnarly or beefy or distorted the sounds of The Horror may be…it really is art. And it’s art they should be seriously fuckin proud of. Brilliant debut.
Find out more about The Horror at their official website at: https://thehorrorbaltimore.com