Review & Track Premiere: Blackout, The Horse

blackout the horse

[Click play above to stream ‘Let ’em Ride’ from Blackout’s The Horse. Album is out May 26 via RidingEasy Records.]

It’s only been two years since Brooklynite three-piece Blackout made their debut on RidingEasy Records with their self-titled full-length (review here), but clearly the riff-rolling tonebearers have been through some changes in that stretch. Their third album, The Horse, arrives via the same label — their first outing was 2013’s independently-released We are Here (review here) — and basks in much of the same irreverent attitude showcased by its predecessors, but also marks the arrival of new drummer Adam Taylor (ex-Ghost Punch), who joins founding guitarist/vocalist Christian Gordy and bassist Justin Sherrell in replacement of Taryn Waldman, who left the band shortly before the writing started up again.

Whether that might or might not have fed into a more aggressive overall take on the part of Blackout for the eight-song/38-minute LP, which was recorded last September in Brooklyn at Spaceman Sound over a period of four days, I don’t know, but the narrative (blessings and peace be upon it) positions The Horse alongside harder-edged New York fare like Cro Mags and Judge, in mindset of snarl if not actual aural impression. That’s probably fair. Even when the Northeast tries to be chill, it can seem impatient about it, and through the raw riffing of “Let ’em Ride” and the chuggy lumber of “Mean Pads,” Blackout do seem to hone in on a particular grit to go along with their thrust, but with Gordy‘s vocals buried as ever and echoing up from under his guitar and Sherrell‘s bass, and a stomper like “Rat Spirit” to provide a nodding cornerstone at the album’s halfway point, mostly Blackout just sound like Blackout. Whether you’ve heard them before or not, that’s nothing to complain about.

What it means is that in a sea of newer-school heavy riffing — the roster of RidingEasy alone finds post-Sleep comparison points in Austin’s The Well — Blackout are managing to concoct a sound across the span of The Horse that stands them out. They’re becoming a more identifiable and individualized band. If being “more New York” is a part of what’s making that happen, then it’s only serving them well. The album’s opener, “Graves,” begins with a stretch of nasty feedback before Taylor‘s drums kick it into the first of many righteous grooves to come, opening up for the verse but held together by toms and rumble for the duration and given further sense of space through Gordy‘s caveman howling. Cro-magnon, indeed.

This straightforward attack has been a big part of Blackout‘s appeal for the better part of the last half-decade, but as “Graves” gives way to “Let ’em Ride” with its play between downer thud and shove, there is growth in songcraft to be heard even from where the three-piece was on Blackout, and a new dynamic with Taylor on drums is unquestionably part of that. “Let ’em Ride” seems about to drift into a wash of chaotic noise just before its final minute, but rights itself around its central riff and crashes to a cohesive, willfully sloppy end to make way for the 2:25 “Roach Bites,” a faster and more all-go of a song which, if anything is tying The Horse to NYC’s small-room-circle-pit past, is what’s doing it.


Somewhat telling that they immediately counter with “Rat Spirit” — roaches and rats; hey, we are in New York! — which is arguably the biggest-sounding plod the record has to offer, but in playing the contrast directly amid a consistency of tone and overall approach, Blackout do nothing that interrupts the flow or well-established momentum of the record and instead only broaden their stylistic reach, once again sounding more like themselves in the process even as they expand on what that means.

If that sounds like the best case scenario for a band coming to fruition on their third album, it kind of is, but The Horse is too barebones in its approach to sound like some grand arrival, and that’s clearly the point. As it moves into side B, “Amnesia” kicks in with a riff that foreshadows the eight-minute closing title-track to come and embarks on another mid-paced headbang of the sort one found in stretches of “Let ’em Ride” — aggro, sure, but not at the cost of groove and somewhere between “Roach Bites” and “Mean Pads,” another sub-three-minute pile drive that seems to interrupt its own count-in in its rush to get to the meat of its riff. No time to waste. “Mean Pads” winds up being an excellent example of Blackout‘s particular blend of spaciousness and crunch on The Horse, the vocals being so far back and the guitar, bass and drums at the fore, but at 2:36 it’s there and gone and the six-minute “Holy Wood” has taken hold such that on first listen one might miss its appeal. Subsequent visits it is.

A tense chug defines the early going of “Holy Wood,” coming to a maddening cacophony before the two-minute mark only to ease back into a nodding verse and trade between the two sides for the duration, ending in a crash and feedback to highlight the tossoff sensibility so much of The Horse seeks to convey, even if it undercuts this impression through its own thought-out construction. That duality comes into play in the finale as well, which at eight minutes seems to cut itself in half between a clunked initial progression not so dissimilar from the rest of the outing preceding and the big slowdown that occurs just before its midpoint that leads at last to the wash of noise, lead-guitar fuckall and cavernousness that The Horse has been threatening all along. Blackout ride this payoff until about seven minutes in and spend the final stages of the closer essentially disintegrating into amp noise, the drums and bass dropping out to leave a fading feedback as the last element to go much as it was the first element to arrive. Important to know where your foundation lies.

And Blackout clearly do. As they come into their own and continue despite their personnel shift to release a full-length (suitably enough) on the odd-year, they in no way lose sight of their post-Melvins/Sleep beginnings in density of distortion and a seemingly sans-frills delivery that nonetheless shows growth from one offering to the next. That actually is the best of both worlds when it comes to a group hitting their stride, and so it seems that might just be what Blackout are doing as they establish this new lineup in these tracks. It may be 2019 before we really understand the context of The Horse‘s stripped-down approach, but the songwriting and execution GordySherrell and Taylor bring to bear here feels like a landmark for them all the same.

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