STRANGE HORIZON – Beyond the Strange Horizon (2022)REVIEW

Is it just an intuition or is it the voice of God? — On their debut full-length Norwegian traditional doom metal/heavy rock trio Strange Horizon is for lovers, eh, well fanatics of the eldest and headiest dread-skulling thread running through post-industrial advent to today’s niche-strictured heavy metal obsolescence. That is to say that they’ve taken lessons learned and taste a plenty from last fifty plus years of existential heavy rock music yet rightfully set their ideal somewhere around the late seventies for aesthetic (and render) with songwriting more directly influenced by the post-millennium boon of Finnish doom metal and still prevalent Scandinavian ‘retro’ heavy rock revisionist musings. Their aesthetic isn’t calculated though it is surely olden, an quilted illustrative representation of a stoney tumbler full-up on old and ‘new old’ sounds, exposition from realms which sustain complimentary motion by way of the traditional, if not imitative, nature of the craft. Whether or not we can consider ‘Beyond the Strange Horizon‘ timeless for the sake of its style is yet up in the air, their enthusiasm nonetheless impresses by way of an intuitive scoping of the doom-rock continuum.

Formed by guitarist/vocalist and key songwriter Qvillio (Secret Rites) years prior but made official circa 2017 Strange Horizon‘s impetus and inspiration therein hasn’t been cryptic or coyly referenced to date, the band (now a duo-ish setup) pointing directly to Minotauri, Count Raven, Saint Vitus among many others to start and suggesting a deeper representation of classic progressive rock and early Sabbath worship being the key to their cosmic gates. The fuzz-busted and straight faced glowering of Reverend Bizarre‘s best naturally makes for an easy comparison due to the vocalist’s inherited cadence and their more kicking and swinging ‘II: Crush the Insects‘-esque movement making a scene to start. This first impression fades into the background as ‘Beyond the Strange Horizon‘ works its slow n’ easy magick, leaning into its mid-to-late 70’s heavy psych side along the way.

Though it’d make sense to jump right into the earthly rehearsal room tones of Strange Horizon‘s first demo tape (‘Sonos Aestas MMXVIII‘, 2018) it’ll be for the sake of posterity since each of ’em features as standout pieces on the full-length itself. At that point in time the songs (“The Final Vision” in particular b/w “Fake Templar”) were very well formed, arranged to such a degree that they haven’t been so heavily altered in structure or voice since. The only notes to take from point A to point B being that original bassist Kvernberg has continued to be their album artist (see also: Kryptograf‘s album art) since that first rehearsal and post-demo bassist Christer Lindestag features a somewhat more ‘Master of Reality‘-attuned tone, adding a bit of jammed and heavy psych adjacent note to a few of the newer songs on album, single and album closer “Death in Ice Valley” being the obvious highlight of his inclusion and standout demo-era track “Chains of Society” being the prime bass guitar feature on the album for my own taste.

Beyond the Strange Horizon‘ wears its mid-2000’s Finnish doom spirited impulse like a neon paisley button-up shirt as opener “Tower of Stone” glooms in with a deadpan ‘Fear to Pain‘-esque fuzz walled riff and a few extra layers of leads from on high as they jog in, already at ease within this first depressive, macabre fantasy anthem. Strange Horizon have a softer touch, a less severe hand than most band I’d compare them with and this begins to show as the song winds down into trailing solos, several riff variations, a bass solo and choral vocals. The raw buzzing of the early Saint Vitus inspired riffing which kicks off “Fake Templar” was the moment I was sure I’d stumbled upon the right stuff in terms of traditional doom metal inspired music and not just the usual fare, this’d only been reinforced by the chorus, an actual memorable chorus that rides the moment with a well set guitar solo and twisted bass-driven rhythm beneath it. The finesse of this piece, obviously in the works for some number of years at this point, speaks to some true devotion to the actual bones of early 70’s Black Sabbath and not just generational face valuations of. Side A only holds its momentum from there, a miserable wizard’s questioning of reality and divinity which again only reinforces the trio’s most obvious influences by the time we’ve run through pivotal tonal piece “Divine Fear”, another big goddamned jog of a doom metal song matching the scope and intensity of the album opener.

Side B follows a similar format but begins to change its tune, incorporating just as many ‘ready extant pieces (“They Never Knew”, “Chains of Society”) as co-written ones, such as the aforementioned “Death in Ice Valley” and its campfire psych huddle-up “Turning the Corner”. That finale pairing is arguably an underutilized mode for Strange Horizon whom seem to find their most natural flow state within slower, more chilled out pieces. Granted the “Electric Funeral” adjacent scald of the final track’s opening riffs is somewhat on the nose but hey, it doesn’t hurt the full listen in the slightest to go there. The song itself becomes a fixture on the full listen due to its 9+ minute length and strong feature of vocalist Merethe Heggset (ex-High Priest of Saturn) and I believe Solstorm guitarist Bjørn Ognøy provides at least one or two leads. It doesn’t necessarily feel like Strange Horizon want to go out of character in fear of losing the plot but this ends up being a fine way to shake off the dread of the full listen and space-case the ride to the end.

Traditional doom metal doesn’t feel like such an old, living corpse of a thing in the hands of these Bergenserne whom do a fine job of pulling back an already ‘new old’ school sound to its most nascent state, giving the old wooden leg a matte finish, or, enough of a heavy psych texture as to not interrupt the soured spirits and bigger riffs they’ve lead with. A fine debut and an easy record to leave on repeat and get lost within. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (77/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Beyond the Strange Horizon
LABEL(S):Apollon Records
RELEASE DATE:May 6th, 2022

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