From first wave to second wave to dark wave to new wave to cold wave to no wave nerds have ridden the tubular tradition of classifying all sounds as movements. Lumping similar sounds and scenes together like an imitation crabmeat salad shoved inside a cheap potato roll. And maybe that’s a good thing. We the people of consumption usually like everything in a neat little package with a bow on it. I need to know whether it sounds like Burzum or Darkthrone and, if Darkthrone it be, which album. It is in this way that we categorize, consume and sort through a massive amount of music being made across the planet.
But is it really fair? Do we want to build fences around fences around fences to keep everything in a neat little field for us? Should we treat metal the way we treat flocks of sheep? The answer is probably no (despite this trend clearly continuing until the sun engulfs the earth á la Melancholia). So, you’re probably asking, “what the fuck is the point, Manny?” Well, I’ll tell you the point: Music only progresses through innovation and innovation takes courage to reach outside the fences that hold you in and take influences and ideas from other areas. Let’s bring back that crabmeat salad and think about how much better it would be if we allowed a blend of culinary influences to replace the potato roll with a steamed bun and maybe replace the mayonnaise with a lighter, more asian influenced dressing. The point is, music gets better when it changes, innovates and progresses.
Horn is a solo project hailing from Germany. And if you’re looking to practice your German, Horn is a helpful guide as Nerrath’s annunciation is clear. It’s important to note that Nerrath is involved in a number of projects. Perhaps none more important to his musical evolution than Cross Vault. It’s his vocals there that make Cross Vault a unique, gruff take on epic doom metal. Those influences began to peek through on Horn’s 2015 release Feldpost. Unfortunately, the music wasn’t entirely there to support it. But with a little axle grease, some tank treads and a whole bunch of sweat, Nerrath has righted the ship directly into brilliant waters.
Horn’s 2017 release Turm am Hang fixes all of that. Long has Horn been an imitation crabmeat salad slathered in mayo and dumped on a stale roll. His two demos, Wanderszeit and Der Forst im Frühjahr released in 2003 and 2004 respectively, reveal minimal ingenuity despite an odd, almost indie rock leaning at times. That pattern largely continued, with minimal growth, over his next four LPs. Muted black metal, with nature-like undertones, ruled across Jahreszeiten, Die Kraft der Szenarien (which introduced more melody to the palette), Naturkraft (which developed rhythmic changes), Distanz (which brought more aggressiveness to the show). In 2013, however, more war-like overtones began to creep into the music. Konflikt and Feldpost altered the guitar tone, provided more depressive covers to accompany the depressive tones and a more rock-like pacing, as well as more pronounced atmospheric tones. In particular, Feldpost began to rattle the screws loose on the gate making it Nerrath’s best release as Horn to date.
In many ways,Turm am Hang, is an extension of Feldpost. It uses many of the same ideas as a foundation, particularly vocally. But what Turm am Hang does better is essentially everything. Notably the vocals and the use of fat riffs drive Turm am Hang into a work that is more “blackened” than “black.” Right off the bat “Alles in einem Schnitt” tears riffs straight from the annals of traditional metal. The result is a song that absolutely rips the gate off its hinges. Powerful as a call-to-arms Nerrath’s vocals drive the track ahead like stampeding horses. Inspired by the German traditional folk song “”Es ist ein Schnitter,” which brings to mind themes of tribalism, warfare, ancient views of masculinity and paganism. And the entire catalog of tracks certainly support those notions.
The title track, which appears second, uses clean guitars and atmosphere to set the scene before falling into the most traditional black metal track on the album. Although slow and plodding, it’s the title track that most resembles Horn’s earlier, pre-Feldpost, work. But, much like Feldpost, Nerrath employs his “clean” vocals (layered with harsh vocals) to herald a triumphant feeling over the track. The effect of which is as infectious as the black plague.
There is also a serious black n’ roll feel to Turm am Hang. First revealed on the outro of the title track, the roll is on display across “Die mit dem Bogen auf dem Kreuz” where choir vocals, clean guitars and riffs fatter than a Ratt concert pile on top of each other to surf the moat into the castle of epic metal. Similarly, “Bastion, im Seegang tauber Fels” rides a galloping, traditional 90s metal riff, including harmonized lead lines, through the gates of the castle screaming “RIDE OUT WITH ME!” to the listener.
I would be remiss to close out this review or rant or lecture or whatever without mentioning the closing track which is a When Bitter Springs Sleep cover of “The Sky Has Not Always Been This Way” (from their 2013 release Coven of the Wolves). Nerrath doesn’t do much to make it his own save for putting his exceptional voice over the top. It’s a voice we haven’t heard from Nerrath, even in his work with Cross Vault. He rocks a lovely baritone over the track and sings, quite clearly, in English. Reminiscent of Primordial’s A.A. Nemtheanga, Nerrath helps bring the track to life in a way the production on Coven of the Wolves was unable to (with no disrespect to Lord Sardonyx).
I could rant and rave about the music on this album, and how terrific it is, and good lord those riifs, and how it’s a great step forward not only for black metal but also for German black metal, but it’s better if you just listen to the album. The inclusion of outside influences, particularly RIFFS, something that is lacking in much of today’s murk-core-swamp-metal. That’s something that will not only excite the Last Rites crew but also metalheads worldwide. This is the coming together of the Grand Magus, Manilla Road, Brocas Helm and Eternal Hammer crowd with the Waldgefluster, Isengard, Drudkh and Skogen crowd. And what a mixed marriage it shall be.