Newcomer Houston trio Funeral Horse only pressed 100 copies of their debut tape, Savage Audio Demon — its title seeking to describe a deceptively wide stylistic range in classic demo fashion — but from what I understand, at the time of this post a few still remain for sale. The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Paul Bearer, bassist Jayson Adams, and drummer Kevan Harrison (apparently since replaced by Chris Larmour) formed in 2013, and sure enough, Savage Audio Demon has a feeling-it-out kind of vibe across its six songs presented three-each on two sides, but both within the tracks and in the presentation of the cassette, which is professionally dubbed clear red plastic and packed with a six-panel (the inside is blank) glossy J-card containing the art, tracklisting, thanks list and links (not that you can click a piece of paper, but it’s good to know anyway), they make it clear that they have some idea of what they want to do as a band, whether it’s the Om-style drone-infused meditation of opener “The Fedayeen” or the stripped-down punk ragers “Crushed under Shame and Misery” and “Invisible Hand of Revenge.”
The Melvins come up as an influence at several points throughout Savage Audio Demon, most notably on side two’s “Wings Ripped Apart,” but though the recording is raw and the vocals on the punkier songs coming across somewhat dry — obviously not on the megaphoned verses of “Funeral Horse” — what stands out most about Funeral Horse‘s debut is that they seem not only aware of the influences under which they’re working, aural and perhaps chemical, but actively striving to craft something of their own from them. At the start of side two, “Scatter My Ashes along the Mississippi” provides a steady Southern heavy bounce that serves as the bed for the highlight of the tape, gradually fading in over the course of a vaguely cultish first verse before speeding up to a more aggressive second half. A chop in the guitar line toward the end of that song feeds the warts-and-all feel of the recording, but they tie it up nicely with a return to the initial riff, leaving the leadoff cut as the real mystery of the release. Probably it could’ve closed just as easily as it opens (immediate points for starting off with the longest song; always a bold move), but it’s the background drone, the Cisneros-style vocals and the meditative spirit — though actually the breaks in the central progression remind most of Orange Goblin‘s “Cities of Frost” — that ultimately distinguish it from everything else on the tape.
Particularly because it arrives first, it throws the listener off guard when they shoot into the faster, more garage-sounding “Crushed under Shame and Misery,” but it’s easy to figure that was the idea in the first place. And while “The Fedayeen” is somewhat incongruous with the rest of what follows, it serves its purpose as as the opener in establishing an expectation that Funeral Horse can immediately and effectively work against. Call it trickery if you want, it’s hard to argue with the results, and in the end, it’s “The Fedayeen” that makes me the most curious about where Funeral Horse might go stylistically after Savage Audio Demon and in what direction their sound might continue to develop, or if the sides of their personality will cohere into something else entirely. It’s a common-enough experience in listening to bands getting their feet wet, but nonetheless true about what the trio accomplish on their first tape that it’s an enticing prospect to see how the progression might play out across their blend of punk, heavy rock and doomed riffing.