Ah Inferno records – once again we meet my old friend. Regular readers of SonicAbuse will know that we have a thing for Inferno Records. Only Peaceville matches them in terms of the fact that both labels are practically a guarantee of quality. We have never yet received a poor release from Inferno (motto: “in metal we trust – in hell we’ll burn”) and every time we see new material there’s a palpable sense of excitement as to what we’re about to hear. To stop eulogizing for a second and to put it simply, if you love heavy metal then Inferno is a record label you should acquaint yourself with thoroughly.
Now that we’ve declared our undying love for Inferno (and blushed heartily in the process) it’s time to look at this latest offering from the Label. ‘Tree of Woe’ is a full length offering from Death Rides a horse (named after the 60’s Spaghetti Western) that gathers together tracks from the band’s two previously released EPs (2012’ws ‘tree of woe’, 2010’s ‘Pantokrator’) as well as a bonus track (the brilliantly titled ‘dominion of metal’). The fact that one of the tracks is a Scorpions cover, cementing this doom band’s love of classic heavy metal once and for all, highlights the fact that you have an absolute winner on your hands and so it transpires – ‘Tree of a woe’ is a stunning release that may even be one of the best releases we’ve yet had from Inferno (although ‘Axecuter’ really are awesome… so maybe it’s a tie).
Ostensibly a doom band, Death rides a horse are suitably different from almost every other doom band out there because their love of metal does not begin and end with Black Sabbath. There’s a classic rock sensibility that washes through the sludgy riffs hinting at elements of Iron Maiden (check out the blistering solo to ‘open the gates’), the Scorpions (obviously), Judas Priest and more, as well as the ubiquitous Sabbath references. The other element that provides Death rides a horse with such a sharp (and possibly poisoned) edge is their stunning vocalist/bassist Ida Hollesen who is quite simply one of the best female singers in metal, comparable with the wonderful Anneke Van Giersbergen, and possessed of a voice and attitude that is perfectly suited to the band’s dark sound.
The band open with the newest tracks, those from the ‘tree of woe’ EP itself, and ‘for those about to die’ is a brilliant introduction to the band for those who haven’t heard them before. Building tension with huge, lumbering riffs before a nimble riff leads us into a powerful gallop that is one part Maiden, one part Sabbath and one part Candlemass and Ida’s glorious voice rings out true and clear from the heart of the mix. It is exciting stuff, even for hardened doom fans; Anders Madsen’s powerful, tribal percussion booming out a warning to all, whilst the syrupy riffs of Kenneth Engelsen and Jens Hollesen slowly drown everything under a sea of life-sapping tar. Like the pit that Anthony Perkins uses to hide his victims in in ‘Psycho’, there is little escape from the beautifully dark web in which you find yourself, and as the pounding riffs wrap you ever tighter a solo is unleashed that is fluid, creamy and utterly hypnotic. That’s it – you’re trapped until the disc has finished, and glad to be so. ‘(A unified vision of a transatlantic empire) open the gates’ should, by rights, stumble after so magnificent an opening track, but the band’s unfailing instinct for a good riff means that, if anything, it grabs from the off with even greater vigour, the band opting for a faster paced track that has a throbbing groove augmented with a thrash-influenced riff that places the track within a similar field to Paradise Lost’s Metallica-threatening ‘Draconian Times’, albeit with a more classic metal edge that hints at a deep, unrequited yearning for Dio. The title track is no less impressive and, at nearly eleven minutes, is the longest song here, providing Ida with plenty of opportunity to exercise her stunning voice, whilst the band explore multiple riffs, somehow always managing to impress with their scything assault that recalls Megadeth as much as Sabbath. Indeed, so impressive is the track that it one of those rare moments when you sense the band has instilled the very essence of what makes them great into that one track – it is their ‘Comfortably numb’ or ‘stairway to heaven’, a song that is recognisably theirs and a standard by which all their other work is liable to be judged. Epic, elegant and masterful, the fact that Death rides a horse even manage to make such a feat sound easy provides an easy indicator of their immense skill.
Tracks four to seven see us travel back in time to the band’s ‘Pantokrator’ EP. The production is noticeably less assured on these older tracks and the song-writing, whilst still recognisably Death Rides a horse, is rougher around the edges – sweat-soaked leather to the rich, sanguine velvet of ‘Tree of woe’. It’s fascinating to hear the band’s raw beginnings packaged directly alongside their brilliantly realised new material, although it clear that the band’s potential shines out like a beacon even on these earlier recordings, the band’s raw skill and ambition clearly evident in the Maiden-meets-Sabbath-meets-Metallica riff fest that is ‘beyond the ultimate threshold’. Cramming in multiple ideas into their songs and then sending the whole thing into orbit with monumental solos, it is an awesome EP in its own right and suffers only by comparison to the band’s own towering subsequent achievements. The title track is a seething hotbed of fear and loathing, given a riotous musical backdrop courtesy of the band whilst Ida stands front and centre, her bass low slung as her rich voice effortlessly carries over the brutal riffs. ‘The eye’ has a classic feel to it, as if the band wanted to carve out a truly traditional metal style song, with harmonised guitars and an incessant chugging riff that keeps the adrenalin flowing throughout. Similarly ‘fly to the rainbow’ does a grand job of keeping the grandeur of the original whilst pulling it into the lower, darker world of Death rides a horse with the result that the band touch on the hallowed ground of The Gathering (listen to Ida’s vocal intonation, for example, or the phased guitars and then recall the wonders of ‘Mandylion’), showing off a love for the psychedelic and the musical ability that came bursting to the fore on the ‘tree of woe’ EP. The album closes with the 2011 bonus track ‘Dominion of metal (under the mighty influence)’ and it is every bit as brilliant as the title would suggest, the band pulling off a bullet-belt studded chug with aplomb and drawing once more on those classic metal influences that will see the band compared with the greats of Priest, Maiden and Purple in years to come, as well as their more doomy brethren.
Death Rides a horse are unequivocally awesome. You can pick at any aspect you like – the production, the vocals, the instrumentation, the song-writing – and you’ll always come to the same conclusion: it is flawless. Ida is a stunning front woman, her vocals delivered with passion, conviction and rare ability, whilst the band are perfectly in tune with her, knowing when to blaze away in a fit of technical possession and when to hold back, allowing her voice to shine brightly. Whilst the older EP offers a rawer sound, it is perfectly acceptable in its own right and suffers only briefly in comparison to its newer, shinier cousin, before you’re once again lost in the music. This is doom, but done with a style, panache and love of classic heavy metal that makes it frantically enjoyable from start to finish. Remember when you first heard ‘Epicus, doomicus Metallicus’? Yeah – it’s as good as that and an essential purchase for anyone who has even a drop of metal blood pumping through their veins. Find it, buy it, treasure it and then wait for the full-length record… something tells me Death Rides a horse will get even better.
Find this epic release at Inferno’s own, awesome webstore