Thursday, 27 July 2017

RIFF REWIND (04/03/2015): Warhorse - ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash’ (Reissue)


In a time where doom is flourishing in all directions and manners, Southern Lord exhumed the sole full-length from Massachusetts' Warhorse. Long out of print, rabidly sought after, and unconditionally vital in foreshadowing the plethora of current acts who partake in long form, recklessly downtuned sound voyages, 2001's ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash’ was  reissued on double LP and digital formats on February 24th, 2015 combined with their final 7" EP, I Am Dying.

Formed in 1996 and lasting the best part of a decade, Warhorse wallow deep down, grooving at the kind of frequency usually associated with imminent natural disaster. But in addition to their intricate delivery, Warhorse possesses an experimental, verging on psychedelic streak which gave rise to gritty and memorable riffs, and saw them sharing stages with the iconic likes of Electric Wizard, Khanate, Acid King, High On Fire and Unearthly Trance.

‘As Heaven Turns To Ash’ and ‘I Am Dying’ are sinister demonstrations of ultra-heavy riffs as a weapon, and with Southern Lord delivered a stellear  rerelease, doom fans worldwide will need to start saving pennies for the subwoofer damage they are sure to inflict.  Today we are rewinding the riffs back a mere 2 years in order present As Heaven Turns To Ash’. So if you missed it the first time or even following its reissue in 2015, be sure to remedy your error by checking out our review in full below.

By: Daniel Jackson

Album Type: Full-Length
Date Released: 29/09/2001 
(24/02/2015 for the reissue)
Label: Southern Lord

Were ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash’ to be released in 2017 for the first time, it would be in a league with 2014 standouts Conan and Ommadon and the reason, much like ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash’ itself is simple: execution. Especially for its time, but even now; Warhorse knew how to craft a deep fucking tone. If you told me that the guitars were tuned to a previously non-existent z flat and played through a baritone guitar, I’d believe you.

‘As Heaven Turns To Ash’ DLP//DD track listing:

1. Dusk
2. Doom's Bride
3. Black Acid Prophecy
4. Amber Vial
5. Every Flower Dies No Matter The Thorns (Whither)
6. Lysergic Communion
7. Dawn
8. Scrape
9. And The Angels Begin To Weep

I Am Dying EP:

1. I Am Dying
2. Horizons Burn Red

The Review:

Warhorse may not sound all that unique by today’s standards, but in 2001 ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash’ just wasn’t something you heard every day. It’s pretty easy to figure out from which wells Warhorse drew their inspiration: Black Sabbath, Sleep, and Eyehategod. In 2017, you’re going to look at that list and think “So? There are hundreds if not thousands of bands in that camp, and I’ve gotten my fill of it over the last 10 years”. That’s a fair point. It’s hard to argue that as of this writing, doom with stoner tendencies is a well-worn style and bands have needed to add more and more into the mix to come up with a fresh approach. There have been a few that have made stripped-down, basic doom in the Sleep and Eyehategod traditions work, though they’re often the exception rather than the rule.

Were ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash’ to be released in 2017 for the first time, it would succeed in that same way, with the added benefit of a much larger audience for their style. It would be in a league with 2014 standouts Conan and Ommadon and the reason, much like ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash’ itself is simple: execution. Especially for its time, but even now; Warhorse knew how to craft a deep fucking tone. If you told me that the guitars were tuned to a previously non-existent z flat and played through a baritone guitar, I’d believe you. The drums are given plenty of weight in both performance and in production. In a way, this album should serve as the bar which all bands in a similar style should strive to meet, at least production-wise.

The song writing here is strong, despite being deeply indebted to its influences. It also helps that whenever it sounds like the album might be stuck in a groove or idea for too long, the band knows when to include a softer dynamic break or change the emotional tone enough to keep things from getting stale. There are several softer instrumental pieces throughout the album, and along with the subtle diversions sprinkled in throughout the bulk of the album, they manage to avoid letting the bloom fall off the rose.

I’m not entirely certain what ended Warhorse after just one full length and a few EPs. I’d certainly speculate that it’s possible they just had the one album in them. The two songs from the ‘I Am Dying’ EP that came out the following year (also included in this reissue as bonus tracks) suggest that Warhorse were kinda running in place. Even on ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash’, nearly twenty minutes of the album had been recorded in demo form around three years earlier. It would be safe to say that even considering the brief window of time they were together; Warhorse wasn’t a terribly prolific band. They came together and created one great album’s worth of material and moved on. You’d have to try pretty damned hard not to respect that.

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