Pyramids / Horseback – A Throne Without a King

2 out of 5

Label: Hydra Head

Produced by: James Plotkin (mastered by)

Hey, you there, with the cool sneakies and black metal t: you like Pyramids’ take on outre rock, yeah? All those cut up beats and clatter? How about Horseback’s post-rock take on black metal? Also your bag? Great! Here’s 40 minutes of static!

Snide and dismissive, yes, but I can’t help it: expectations are a thing, and so if context. While both of these artists have proven (by this point) experimental track records on their own, they also have a somewhat identifiable “sound,” which is brought forth – if imperfectly – on their standalone tracks. But when the groups combine, they produce an all-out drone narrative (?) that’s not something I’d directly link to either of their individual outputs. This difference, by itself, is not a bad thing exactly – you can allow for some leeway of bringing two experimental acts together – but the setup offered by those opening tracks is then mighty misleading, and perhaps disappointing as a result. Repeated listens can wash the set of this bias, since you’ll know what you’re in for, but unlike other projects where I might give this a go, the material here isn’t compelling enough to make me go in for subsequent dives.

Both solo songs are quality, though each artist gets in their own way: Pyramids mess of drumwork and electronica is as compelling as the material on their solo album (or elsewhere), but the track is at a stretch to make it to 7 minutes, feeling like its run its of course of sound by the midpoint. Similarly, Horseback goes rather punky on Thee Cult of Henry Flint, and it’s excellent, until it stops halfway through and goes ambient. These songs would feel like better fits amidst an album of work that could buffer them; as singles, they feel like good-not-great outings.

Again, set this effect with what follows: A Throne Without A King is a questionably-divided, 4-part, 45-minute stretch of – to a casual listen – static. Admittedly, this isn’t my drone-type of choice: it’s pretty downplayed stuff, wiping the texture behind a murmur of white noise; I prefer drone either noiser or a bit more notably layered, and the song does get there at some point – pt. 3 feels closest to something I’d listen to freely – but mostly retreats into that white noise. Presented without the intro tracks, I think I may have more patience for this, but I did try to go at it again without those songs, and still found it fairly unmoving. There’re some samples / narrative in the first song that may give it more shape, but it’s way after the midway point of the song and I couldn’t make myself interested enough to dig into it; and pt. 2 introduces some actual vocals towards the end, which put it into more of Jesu-esque territory, but it’s fleeting, and also way past a long stretch of burbles. Pt. 3 brings in some of what feels more Pyramid-y: percussive elements, some Einsturzende Neubaten industrial stuff. I don’t want to mislead – it’s still very minimal, but it worked. Pt. 4 is mostly back to static, albeit with some pulsing guitar to give it shape.

Perhaps you can suss out why I’d call this questionably divided: there are moments of difference in each section, but only the third one feels truly distinct. I do think there is a sense of purposeful “vacancy” in the composition, which aligns with the song title (and maybe that narrative?), but even that feels more conceptual than directly enjoyable / engaging as a listening experience.

If you enjoy the openers, both artists have stronger material on their individual releases. If you liked the drone, then you’re probably capable of writing a more informed review than this.