Horseback - A Plague of Knowing (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


A Plague of Knowing (2013)

Relapse Records

Jenks Miller has steadily built up a following with his alias Horseback, a sort of solo project that expertly comprises metal, folk, drone and shoegaze. While his albums have always had always felt like self-contained statements, Miller has gone and dropped a triple disc rarities set, a Plague of Knowing, proving that his songwriting is not subservient to his concepts. Admittedly, it's a huge undertaking to listen through, especially for newbies, but much like Horseback's other releases, it's worth the effort.

The first disc collects songs from 7-inches and splits, as well as a previously unreleased, thoroughly blistering cover of the Stooges' "T.V. Eye." Spanning 2009 through 2012, the material actually comes off as cohesive, perhaps owing to its sequencing. Rather than go chronologically, this set aims for ebb and/or flow. "On the Eclipse," from last year's 7" of the same name, opens the set with a fine blend of Americana and gutter growls which have become Horseback's calling card. This is a band that can get psychedelic and demonic in equal measures.

Plague posits Horseback as an American folk analogue to Jesu: both deal in heavy atmospherics, and both are prolific in their own ways. The first disc here proves that Horseback can be just as droning as Jesu on tracks like "High Ashen Slab" and "Broken Orb," plus with less emphasis on melody. It's hypnotic and disorienting. The Stooges cover puts a nice exclamation point at the end of the set.

Disc one is a traditional rarities collection; disc two, an expanded edition of the out-of-print Stolen Fire cassette, is a total left turn. Taking an almost trip-hop vibe, the Stolen Fire material probably could have been released under a different pseudonym altogether. Gone are the black metal growls in favor of drawling spoken word. Dissonant guitar is replaced with tinny keyboards, although the occasional folky acoustic guitar flourish persists.

Stolen Fire's limited 2012 release so close to Half Blood almost makes sense, to the extent that it's not a true sequel. Within the context of this triple-disc, it's both darker and lighter than the rest of the set simply by not being metal. But as a dreamy, lo-fi set of slow burners, it's tops.

That leaves the two-song, hour-long live third disc to finish up. Containing a live version of "Impale Golden" and an unreleased track, the 40-minute "A Plague of Knowing," it nearly lives up to the unenviable task. Horseback is not a commercial band by any stretch, but the live set will definitely stretch some listeners' patience. You'd think Miller was Barack Obama the way he favors all these drones (buh-dum-pish). "Impale Golden" is all guitar tones with a smattering of auxiliary percussion. It is not driving music, but rather an attempt to out-noise My Bloody Valentine. As for "Plague," well, it's like "Impale Golden" only twice as long. So if you like the drugs, this one's for you.

Still, while the live album probably won't warrant much replay, it still speaks to the diversity in Horseback's catalog (it also makes for decent background music). The first two discs are where it's really at, though, as they represent the road taken (the singles) and the ones less traveled (Stolen Fire). Given it's low price tag, it makes for quite the deal in stereo.