For whatever reason – and I’m going with “an oversaturation of mediocrity” – I don’t have much space left in my world for the whole retro-proto thing, even the best of it. So I didn’t care much about the first few Horisont albums – they were more of those vintage-toned modern takes on classic hard rock, capably performed and yet holding nothing particularly distinctive, and they barely registered on my radar; “listen once and forget” affairs.
Also, for whatever reason – and I’m going with “an oversaturation of hyperbole about what is, ultimately, mediocrity” – I rarely read press releases or artist bios anymore. But then the stars align, and along comes this new Horisont promo, and the attendant written material opens with this gem: “Big of moustache and tight of trouser, Horistont [sic] drink from the bottomless well that’s been bubbling up through the layers of time since the birth of the blues – or Blue Oyster Cult, at the very least.”
Never minding that someone misspelled the band’s name in the very first line of their bio, that opening clause is a wonderful take on this particular type of rock/metal, even if it’s the kind of sentiment that I must admit I would normally use more-than-half-mockingly. And then there’s that album cover: Seriously, look at that thing. It’s masterful. Designed by Henrik Jacobsen, the Odyssey art harks further back than the band’s 70s sounds, back to the Golden Age of science fiction, as if lifted directly from the cover of some long-lost issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Between the brilliantly silly wording and that classic SF cover, when Odyssey dropped into my inbox, I figured I’d give Horisont one more chance to wow me.
And I’m glad I did, because Odyssey is (ahem) light years ahead of their previous efforts.
In the interim between 2013’s Time Warriors and now, these Swedes added a second guitarist in Australian Tom Sutton (ex-Church Of Misery). Whether it was the direct result of Sutton’s arrival, or just a by-product of other factors, concurrent with the expanded roster comes an expansion of scope. Whereas earlier efforts were pretty straightforward retro hard rock, Odyssey adds a marked progressive influence, plus an added electric spark and some riffs that lean to the NWOBHM. All in all, Horisont c. 2015 evokes a wider spectrum than just the usual 70s rock suspects of Pentagram, Sabbath, BOC, and Thin Lizzy. Sure, those are here, but there’s also Queen, Yes, Rush, Iron Maiden, Uriah Heep, Bowie, The Who, and more.
Described by the band as conceptual, if not wholly married to the “concept album” ideal, Odyssey is apparently an outer space saga to match its cover. (One quarter of these twelve tunes are sung in Swedish, so I can’t vouch for an overall story line, but the bits certainly feel pulled from a whole, for what little that’s worth.) Confident in their new approach, Horisont wastes no time showing it off – the 10-minute title track opens Odyssey, and it’s a killer kick-off. An eighth-note pulse atop swirling sound effects leads into a heavy riff, an approach borrowed from Queen’s “Flash Gordon,” although here performed without that song’s undeniable vocal hook, and from there, “Odyssey” twists and turns through multiple movements, from soft to heavy, anchored by a repetitive synthesizer hook that marches in lock-step with the guitars, up and down through the first and last sections. In some moments, it echoes Sabbath (listen for the quick nod to “War Pigs”); some moments nod to Rush, to Maiden, to Yes, and yet it all fits together nicely in a manner that is directly evocative of no one singular source.
From “Odyssey,” the album gets noticeably more direct for the remainder of its first half – lead single “Break The Limit” and “Bad News” are straight-ahead rockers, although each has some slight hints of the progressive, both in their shifting times and in the brief synth leads in the otherwise guitar-driven “Bad News.” And even with the newfound progressive leanings, those guitars are still what drive Horisont forward. Sutton and original guitarist Charlie Van Loo duel throughout all of Odyssey, their guitars going seemingly everywhere in tandem, weaving amongst one another. Vocalist Axel Söderberg flies atop it all, his high-pitched sometimes-falsetto croon on the verge of a yelp, not always technically perfect but undeniably impassioned. Vocal hooks roll by as often as the guitar riffs – in the background harmonies of “Break The Limit,” in the sing-along chorus of “Light My Way,” in the epic haunting beauty of “The Night Stalker.” Closing on a number as epic as its opener, the eight-minute “Timmarna,” Odyssey is a complete winner: There simply are no bad tracks, no stumbles, no misfires, nothing that falls back even to the competent-but-forgettable hard rock of previous Horisont efforts.
Twelve songs in sixty-two minutes: a nonstop barrage of entwined guitar leads and riffs, all of them first-rate; raw rock vocals that can only be described as “soaring,” throwing out catchy choruses and hooks with abandon… This newly expanded Horisont is the best parts of a dozen classic rock bands, stitched together into some science-fiction-themed bricolage, and it absolutely works, and wonderfully.
I can see they have big moustaches, and I don’t care about their trousers in any regard, but I can certainly vouch for the quality of their metal. Three albums into their career, for me, Horisont begins here, and I’m absolutely on board, for this Odyssey and the next.