On each side of the splatter pink 12″ vinyl edition of Funeral Horse‘s second offering, Sinister Rites of the Master, appears one of the above phrases, etched in past the music. Side A has “I am perplexed,” and side B, “Who is the 13th doctor?,” and neither of them come with much by way of context. The former were the final words of Aleister Crowley and the latter phrase is either a Doctor Who reference or I don’t know what. Either or both would seem a decent match for the seven songs and two sides of Sinister Rites of the Master, which follows Funeral Horse‘s summer 2013 tape debut, Savage Audio Demon (review here). A liner included with the record, which is limited to 333 copies pressed by Artificial Head Records, also has a microfiction from drummer Chris Larmour that takes place in the lost city of Carcosa, as seen in Lovecraft and Ambrose Bierce and most recently the HBO drama True Detective, so there’s clearly a dedication to atmosphere and a complete album package being about more than just the music, though their songwriting has progressed audibly since the debut.
Fortunately, that progression hasn’t come at the expense of the raw vibe of the songs’ production. The vinyl has a different mix from the digital version of Sinister Rites of the Master and an even more garage-minded style, but either way you go, there’s a clarity to some of the ideas that sounded formative last time out, the three-piece of Larmour, guitarist/vocalist Paul Bearer – who also donates a mean harmonica solo to round out “Communist’s Blues” at the end of side A — and bassist Jason Argonaut now mischievously jumping from one side to another around the line between punk and heavier rock. The bass tone is warm, vocals mostly distorted, and the drums creative but largely straightforward, so there is a punkish vibe throughout, but while “Amputate the Hands of Thieves” has a definite insistence in its rhythm, it’s thicker, and the fact that Funeral Horse close with what they’ve billed online as a “slight revision” of Rush‘s “Working Man” speaks to other influences at play.
One could say the same of side B in general, though. The three songs on the first half of Sinister Rites of the Master – “Until the Last Nation Falls,” “Amputate the Hands of Thieves” and “Communist’s Blues” — work around a similar stylistic basis of garage stoner movement, the latter pulling back somewhat in tempo, but still in the same vein, while the four cuts that follow the flip — “Executioner of Kings,” “I Hear the Devil Calling Me,” “Stoned and Furious” and the aforementioned Rush cover “Working Man” — change up the approach. This in itself is a classic form — if you’re going to get weird, do it on side B — but where the earlier cuts take inspiration from the likes of John Milton and Kang Chol-Hwan, “Stoned and Furious” is said to be “inspired by true events.” A bit of humor never hurts as a reminder that it’s all supposed to be a good time, and in this way, the digital and vinyl editions of the album feed into each other; you can listen to one and read about the other. “Stoned and Furious” is sonically consistent, however, and the biggest stylistic turn comes with the relatively brief “I Hear the Devil Calling Me,” which brings in Sarah Hirsch of Houston’s Jealous Creatures for a guest vocal over swamp harmonica and strummed guitar.
Well placed and a genuine surprise on the first listen, “I Hear the Devil Calling Me” feels somewhat like an outro, which would make “Stoned and Furious” and “Working Man” bonus tracks for the album, but both sides of Sinister Rites of the Masterwork in terms of their flow, so I’m not about to argue (with myself) over adherence to a theme. The wailing leads of “Stoned and Furious” do well to call back the tom runs at the start of “Executioner of Kings” that act as the bed for a full-sounding wall of riff, and “Working Man” gets reinvented as an early Pentagram demo, blown-out vocals and all. I don’t know who the 13th doctor is, but what Funeral Horse do on their second full-length release is to show that while they keep things loose and natural sounding, they’re still working on a conscious progression of their sound. Sinister Rites of the Master is likely to be a sleeper vinyl, but it departs entirely from the stereotypical post-Pantera Texan burl and is so gleefully stoned in parts that one can’t help but wonder how they hold it together as long as they do. They’ve taking away some of the dronier sounds they presented their first time out, but spend their time well nonetheless.