Horn – Retrograd (2018) REVIEW

Horn is a prolific solo black metal project from German multi-instrumentalist Nerrath active since 2002. The earliest recordings from Horn were raw, bedroom quality black metal demos exploring the extremes of Burzum, Ildjarn and perhaps some influence from Graveland. Admittedly these comparisons come from the rough sound of those first two demos and the atmospheric black metal style employed would be expanded upon across several full-lengths afterwards. Nerrath‘s themes pay tribute to the natural landscape of Germany set to epic pagan black metal that enthralls from the start of his so far seven full-length discography. ‘Retrograd’ is no great outlier but rather an unexpected result of persistent melodic ambition, some mild experimentation and steadily improving fidelity.

From the first strike of Horn’s debut full-length ‘Jahreszeiten’ I found it’s distant atmospheric recording, epic guitar leads and frantic drumming intensely enjoyable. “The Fading Landscape’s Glory” particularly sold me on the project, but the general iteration of ‘Die Kraft der Szenarien’ cemented my expectations and dulled my response to the next few releases; Most of which were not widely available until 2015 or so when Northern Silence issued several of his releases on vinyl. Though he gathers comparisons to Drudkh the way corpses collect flies, I think early Taake or even Kawir are more fitting comparisons for the middle-career of Horn. Around this time Nerrath notably collaborated in doom metal band Cross Vault as N., this happened in nigh unison with a jolt in fidelity and additional folk influences in Horn‘s sound.

‘Distanz’ didn’t sound like shit at all, but it was a subtle atmospheric album that was lead by dreary guitar lines and less driven by Quorthon-worthy riffs as in ‘Konflikt’. An arc of slow but meaningful progress highlights the progression of Horn‘s sound over the last sixteen years and ‘Konflikt’ brought greater viking/pagan spirit to his sound with some great resemblance to Primordial. Though I love his earliest work for it’s obscure atmosphere and themes the greater refinement found beyond his fifth full-length is even more underrated. Of course I’ll need to contradict myself immediately with regards to ‘Feldpost’ which I felt dropped into bland melodic black metal riffs and punkish cliche somewhat often. Much like Taake, his taste in rock/neofolk music seems to have gotten in the way of fan expectations.

‘Turm am Hang’ convinced me that the collaboration with producer Marko Brinkmann, who’d also worked with Nerrath on all Cross Vault and Bulldozing Bastard releases, wasn’t such a terrible thing. I still generally prefer ‘Konflikt’ in style and insist the folk rock-ish mix of the previous two records comes across like a disingenuous take on Myrkgrav and Vreid. This is where ‘Retrograd’ comes in and smudges the air clear of the plastic modern rock strangeness previous. Now credited as Niklas, Horn returns armed with an Appalachian dulcimer and the undeniable power of pagan black metal. ‘Retrograd’ is a wondrous return to the strength of the projects folkish tendencies and showcases the impressive guitar work he’d gained such a following with.

The performance verges on sognametal at times as a result of driving lead guitars and an even more aggressive black metal attack than previous. The title track particularly reminds me of later era Thyrfing otherwise, always a good thing. The inclusion of the dulcimer, cello, and inspiration taken from Swedish folk music and medieval Icelandic folklore offer an exciting prospect for what might influence further releases from Horn. More dedicated folk metal fans might recognize the baritone of Joris van Gelre (ex-Heidevolk) on “De Einder” as well; Something inspiring for the folks disappointed after ‘Batavi’, at least. If nothing else I’m hoping this is the new direction of the project and not just a wild-hair-up-the-ass moment.

For longtime Horn fans this should be a pleasant surprise, but I suppose fans of their more recent records won’t entirely understand the pagan/folk metal direction without familiarity with the full discography. Outside of some appreciation for the unexpected I found the title track and “Garant” held up well with repeat listening, perhaps because of my preference for pagan and melodic black metal. Recommended as a decent entry point for Horn‘s music, but you might want to familiarize yourself with ‘Jahreszeiten’ and ‘Konflikt’ first for a sense of history, ‘progress’ and regression.

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Artist Horn
Type EP
Released March 9, 2018
BUY/LISTEN on Iron Bonehead Productions’ Bandcamp! Follow Horn on Facebook
Genres

Blood will rain. 3.5/5.0

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