As too fucking appropriate, Pale Horseman have been swaggering back into view. Anyone with at least a passing interest in the Bible, after Pestilence, War and Famine have all done their bit, it's Death who comes along to finish off the apocalypse. With Pestilence seemingly not finished with us, and the other two popping up all other the world, it would only make sense Death is on the way. For the Chicago band, previous instalments in their canon have been misfires at best; loads of wailing and gnashing of teeth and pounding riffs did indeed stalk the land, but the only thing the listener was likely to die of was boredom. The production and execution left much to be desired, so the end result was rather more like being kicked in the head by a mangy Blackpool donkey knackered from carrying fat children around all day. With a trio of albums under their belts that combined pedestrian songwriting, lacklustre production and a meandering approach to sludge that compounded the other two faults, things didn't look good for them. 'The Fourth Seal' ramped things up, with a production job with a producer who actually understood their sludgy ways and a touch more diverse songwriting, although the memo still seemed to be “make the riffs heavy”. And instead they were, but tended to smother the little touches that would lift the songs up and over the monotonous and into a more gripping and hypnotic arena.
So we've come to 'For Dust Thou Art', and the improvements are vast and go hand in hand; better production allows the better songwriting and instrumentation to come forth. Driving pounding rhythms are still to the fore, with the element of tightly-wound Neurosis-type intensity here they've had from the very start. Similar to Neurosis, Pale Horseman suffered from high dreams and bad production in their early years. And too often in their early days, Pale Horseman suffered from not being memorable enough, as all good intentions were smothered under a layer of biscuit tin drums and woolly guitars. On this form, they were set for the great glue factory in the sky. Not so with the opening lurch of 'Tundra' and into 'Scourge'. The difference in quality is unbelievable: complementary guitar harmonies and rhythmic fills are abounding, doing their work of supporting the immense riffs. 'Scourge' in particular is a sign of how far they've come in their songcraft and would not sound out of place on a Crowbar record. This isn't plodding like a donkey now, this is a magnificent striding. 'Archangel' is a dominating stomp from NOLA with post-metal structures lying just below the surface that keep you hanging on as cycle after cycle repeats. Vocals too; whereas before they sounded so workman-like they had the delivery of a builder bellowing for bricks, tracks like 'Vagrants' sees them expand up and above the call of duty. 'Cydonia' is another Crowbar-shaded ball of dense riffs, but also incorporates more psychedelic textures that justify the running time.
For those of you who are new to Pale Horseman, this would definitely be the best record to start with. Pointless meandering has been banished, and now every repetitious rhythm has a meaning and a purpose. And all the embellishments – the acoustic guitar, the double tracked harmonies, the fills – always add to the thunderous charge. While it may not be one of the best albums of the year, if Pale Horseman keep on this course, you can be sure that the next few records could well be world-beaters, assuming there's still a world to beat.
'For Dust Thou Art' is out now.
For more on Pale Horseman, check out the band's official Bandcamp page