As much as I like the “what if?” scenarios, at the same time I hate them. It is always nice to theorize about what could have happened if x has taken place instead of y. In the case of Warhorse that is a big “what if?” and at the same time an unavoidable one. The band from Massachusetts started off their career back in the mid ‘90s, and after a couple of demos and EPs, founded their sonic path and created their debut, and unfortunately their only, full-length As Heaven Turns To Ash. The album was also one of the early releases for Southern Lord, who would then go on becoming one of the most prominent doom labels in the coming years. Warhorse would work with Southern Lord for the release of their next and final EP, I Am Dying, after which they disbanded, never to be heard of again.
So now Southern Lord digs up this obscure doom metal gem, as it has done with a few other releases in the past, such as Burning Witch and Thorr’s Hammer, just to name a few, and resurrects the legacy of Warhorse. The “what if?” part of all this is, and something that anyone who has listened to the sole Warhorse full-length already know, is what would the band achieve had they not split. As Heaven Turns To Ash is still today a masterpiece within the stoner/doom genre and it will always remain an unknown as to what heights Warhorse could achieve with their music.
The take of Warhorse on the doom/stoner genre included a big psychedelic influence, but not in such a way as many doom bands implement the psychedelic vibe today. This band would include acoustic and clean passages within their album, as is the case with “Dusk” and “Dawn.” The folky tone was kept at a bay and instead there was fume-like expulsion of darkness from the parts. They felt hazy and dim and gloomy without losing their melodic quality. That aspect of the band would also be included in their songs. In midst of the heavy riffs of “Doom’s Bride” Warhorse could just throw them all away and go to a clean psychedelic part, something that most bands in the genre would dread to do.
While when they wanted to smear complete darkness, they could easily turn the whole experience to the equivalent of a bad acid trip level, with tracks such as “Scrape” with a real turn for the dark in this case as the band unleashes what is essentially a jam session near the end of the song. In other cases they could immerse themselves completely into a more straightforward type of psychedelia, as they would do with “Every Flower Dies No Matter The Thorns.” The laid back vibe and the insane effects on the vocals alone will sell you on what Warhorse was capable of with that album.
The band could go as far as throwing in some doom/ drone parts in there, as in “Lysergic Communion” with the roaring feedback present, and even reaching the boundaries to noise with the ending of the song, while at other times they could appear as ambient, something that occurs in the outro of the album, “And The Angels Begin To Weep.” They would even add tribal drumming in parts of their songs, as they did with “Amber Vial” and “I Am Dying.”
Of course their basis had to be solid in order for all the above to work, and Warhorse of course did not disappoint in that area either. Their colossal riffs could be as heavy as to bring down the walls of your room, while the ‘70s influences in the riffing is quite apparent, especially in songs such as “Doom’s Bride” and “Black Acid Prophecy.” The lead work was also great, with the band finding the space and right time to unleash short leads or solos, sometimes to bring forth a more hallucinogenic outcome, as in “Black Acid Prophecy,” while at others keeping things to a more straightforward doom/stoner format, for example in “Lysergic Communion” and “I Am Dying.”
End of the day, this re-release is kind of bittersweet. As much as it is great that you get to hear Warhorse again and remember what a great album As Heaven Turns To Ash was, it seems like a shame that the band no longer exists. In terms of the packaging, it is cool to see that the material of the I Am Dying EP was included in here, even though the two tracks do not feel as strong as those of the full-length, although it would have been cool to see it even possibly encompassing the previous two EPs from the band, The Priestess and Lysergic Communion, for a more complete offering. Although to be fair As Heaven Turns To Ash would have been enough even on its own.
9.0 / 10
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