If there is one genre or stage of music that has passed me by, it has got to be the current rage for bands using 8bit sound card samples within their compositions, which I’m reliably informed by Urban Dictionary has become known as “Nintendocore”. Now, I’m not too sure what Sega have done wrong, but for some reason SegaCore has not hit it off with the hardcore crowd, and the bleeps and not quite so dulcet tones of the ancient Game Boy has become the fashionable instrument to be seen with by all with fringes and skinny jeans all over. God help us all.
HORSE the Band has been a name that I have had quite an interest in giving their clear dedication to their music, going to extreme lengths to try and tour the world off their own back, with the help of their equally dedicated fans. Furthermore, it was lead singer Nathan Winneke who coined the ghastly term Nintendocore, so at any rate if you don’t enjoy their third full length release, you do have someone to blame for this nightmare.
But it would seem there has been a change of attitude at Camp HORSE, where in spite of the toy sound effects, the lyrical content has certainly wandered down a much darker passage. With lyrics such as “MURDER/IT’S MURDER/MURDER/IT’S MURDER” and “I WANT TO DIE” printed in capital letter on the sleeve the band clearly have a slight lack of subtlety, and I doubt there’s any real poetic talent in any of these lads, but all the same it has to be said – it makes a startling change from songs about princesses in another castle.
The band have a distinctly charming and grown up attitude about them…ahem.
Throughout the whole album the combination of 8bit sparks, barking vocals and frantic guitars are used over and over again, but what stops the shenanigans from becoming too stale and boring is the vast array of atmosphere. Things go from traditionally breakneck hardcore to soft, reflective moments throughout the album’s hour long play time. ‘Broken Trail’ weaves a delicate piano before jumping out of the teacups and into the rollercoaster with ‘The Red Tornado’, and the genuinely haunting ‘Rotting Horse’ is gritty and tense, an emotion exacerbated by the addition of climatic organs just before the track closes with a solemn thud.
However the novelty is not completely agreeable. There is a reason that most video gamers look back on the Game Boy’s sound chip and shudder (unless the only game you ever played was Tetris, in which case you’ll think back to the theme music for that and instantly want to listen to it again because it’s one of the greatest tunes ever composed). ‘Murder’ opens with an incredibly painful NES ‘riff’ that doesn’t sit too well at all, and the bizarre interludes that pepper the album just appear a rather uninspired attempt to be deep and meaningful, such as the Zelda-esque ‘The Beach’, which is just over a minute of a girl crying. Touching stuff.
New York City, the first single taken from A Natural Death.
There are two conflicting aims with this album. The lads of HORSE clearly want to move away from the jokey image that they have created for themselves and have made a genuine, if somewhat cringe worthy, effort to start considering more thought provoking lyrical themes, a statement supported by keyboardist Eric Engstrom‘s comments, suggesting that the album is about “the futility and arrogance of creation and destruction, the overwhelming scale of space and time, and the brutal majesty of nature”. It’s a bold and admirable set of themes to compose an album to, but it’s all genuinely difficult to take the work seriously when all you can think of when listening to it is Mario and Luigi kicking ten shades of shit out of each other in a mosh pit.
But to be honest, the whole thing left me fairly impressed. It’s a bit too long at just over an hour, and by the end less patient people will grow weary of the constant NES instrumentation, which in case is a shame, as penultimate track ‘I Think We Are Both Suffering from the Same Crushing Metaphysical Crisis’ is one of the best parts of the album, a seven minute song that goes from a sound effects solo to a well crafted instrumental closing that remains gripping right to its very conclusion as it fades into ‘Lif’.
I’d be pretty interested to see how the music turns out live. I would imagine it’s a pretty hectic show.
There are some pretty interesting ideas here, and it’s great to see a band of this ilk make a conscientious decision to use music as a tool for exploring the human condition, even if it’s clear that words fail them sometimes. But unlike similar descendants of all this video game infused nonsense, such as Enter Shikari and Fuck Buttons, HORSE the Band are doing something different and interesting and it certainly should not be written off as a lame joke.
(This review is also published on Sonic Dice.)