Laid to Waste by HorsewhipRelease date: September 25, 2020
Label: Roman Numeral Records
Laid to Waste may be the sophomore album from Florida blackened hardcore band Horsewhip, but in reality, it is the culmination of almost thirty years of relentless writing, rehearsals and touring. The quartet have within their ranks alumni from some of the most radical, fearsome and celebrated hardcore bands from the early 90s, such as Reversal of Man and combatwoundedveteran. Cut from a similar cloth to those early bands, Horsewhip are a band that will surely prove irresistible to many within the global hardcore community.
The Florida quartet may be older and wiser, but they’re still not messing around, with eleven tracks coming in at quite a bit short of the half hour mark. However, for those well versed in the member’s previous outfits this actually may sound rather epic, as their previous selves have in the past added a handful of tracks to that total and clocked an even shorter runtime! That’s due, by and large, because of the point of difference in their sound being the incorporation of ambient soundscapes and the occasional flourish of shimmering guitars that owe more to the post-hardcore explosion at the turn of the millennium. This only goes to show that the members are still consistently evolving their sound and Laid to Waste even sounds rather different to their self-titled LP from 2018.
Unfortunately, some of this new musical storytelling doesn’t quite work, often disturbing the flow of the record, rather than adding extra menace or flecks of beauty to the relentless brutality. The album opens with a trio of tracks that feel like the musical equivalent of being branded thrice with a red-hot iron poker. ‘Stillborn’ and ‘Feast’ flash by in savage, visceral wonder, opening the LP in fine fettle, before standout from this early explosion ‘Inertia Waits’, bludgeons the listener before ending on some excellent, pounding drumming. We then, however, segue into ‘Ruin’, an instrumental track without any discernible tune or engaging destination. Whining guitars drone on for much of its two minute length before, just before its end, we get some sparse, intriguing single notes seemingly coming together to form something material, until the track suddenly ends. Any listener imagining the following track ‘Pray for the Dead’ may take up this motif will be sadly disappointed, as, after a swell of feedback amps up the volume, the band pivot back into their hardcore assault. This song is yet another powerful slab of world-beating rage, but it immediately raises distracting questions over the previous track.
‘Charnel House’ opens with about twenty seconds of nothing much at all, before we then do enter a menacing further twenty seconds of ‘measurable’ introduction, until the track finally blasts into life. What that first passage adds to the song, or indeed the album, is an answer I simply cannot answer. After repeated listens, it still seems like an odd section of downtime that serves no purpose, before a true intro to a harrowing track. However, aside from this perplexing intro, ‘Charnel House’ is one of the best songs on the album, a volatile brew of their now familiar hardcore tone, but slowed down, acting as a far moodier counterpoint to the early portion of the record. ‘Closure’ follows in similar form, with a gorgeous bass opening, before transitioning into a roiling, bruising rager – the band working in supreme levels of detail and musicianship while remaining cohesive and an awe-inspiring destructive unit.
‘Remission’ begins with a quiet introduction too, but this works perfectly, with a clearly defined riff and so obviously serving as a dynamic switch up to ensure the latter part of the track hits all the harder. If anything, ‘Remission’ feels like a track that just might have had more legs to it, rather than finishing so soon, at little over a minute and a half. ‘Holy Lies’ remains a heavy track, with the same blistering vocals being screamed over the top, but the band are doing something markedly different, with the guitars and bass taking on a more ethereal quality and the drumming taking a small step back, putting on the breaks slightly, letting the heavy yet blissful guitar swoop in and take centre stage. This also serves as a bridge introducing the last two tracks of the album – ‘Lowlands’ and ‘When It Comes’ – which are a little longer than those that have come before.
‘Lowlands’ has some of the most exquisite writing of the whole album, with a bunch of riffs that slap you around the face, and undoubtedly the best vocal performance on the LP, sounding positively feral at times. However, the track truly ends around the same length as many others on the record, and we are treated to over a minute of ambient noise. There is certainly more going on here than on ‘Ruin’, but, once again, there is very little to this ambient section to warrant comment.
Final track ‘When It Comes’ opens with some thrilling drumming, with the band then finally coming together for a fine end to Laid to Waste. Their hardcore feels even more visceral than it has for the previous ten songs, and the slower pace in its mid-section shows the band have far more to offer in the future, with some truly wondrous passages and effortless switch ups of pace and dynamic. The track (and therefore album) does end on a slightly anti-climactic note, as we get pummelling drums ready to pound the album to a rousing close, only for them to stop and the last few seconds provide a somewhat unsatisfactory fade out.
Laid to Waste is a frustrating album. The ability is so obviously there, both in terms of composition and musicianship. [Who could possibly doubt that, given the member’s history?] And the ideas themselves are extremely promising, and for those more straightforward songs on the LP, they are delivered in masterful ways that genuinely leave your heart in mouth. But for those tracks with greater experimentation, the addition of said new ideas often sound like bolt-ons to the track proper and are not executed with any great panache.
Strange ambient passages baked into the fury of blackened, crusty hardcore sounds, delivered by legends of bands of old, sounds positively brilliant and endlessly exciting. But, right now, Laid to Waste does not quite accomplish what sounds so perfect on paper. The production of the record, too, is rather one dimensional and personally I found the vocal delivery somewhat ‘one note’, when – especially in this line of music – one feels the need for greater variety and far more emotion coming from the vocals. My gut tells me this is more to do with how the vocals were recorded than the delivery in the studio, but, either way, I often wanted them to freak me out or gut punch me more than they managed to do.
For those looking for quality blackened hardcore, there is still much to find and treasure on Horsewhip’s Laid to Waste. It is a quality album (with gorgeous artwork) and Horsewhip are doubtless a name for the future. However, there are moments on the album that do raise questions. But, I think those questions are exciting, because, once answered with greater aplomb, Horsewhip will not only be a name for the future, but a name that spells the future itself. I will wait impatiently for album #3. There’s more to come here – no doubt.