HORNS & HOOVES – I Am The Skel Messiah (2022)REVIEW

Gully-aborted bottom feeding parasites, yellow bellied skag-eyed beggarly addicts, stork lookin’ Satanic thugs, krell-ass goons and irreligious criminal scum are already gearing up for mayhem abounding, having already gotten the signal as the pentagram were lit and their howling carries long on the nuclear green winds out of Brooklyn, New York these days. This trio of deviant black metal disturbers Horns & Hooves are finally ready to squelch out a real heater, a forty minute psychosis wherein they’ve pushed the heavy metal -danger zone- back into the hands of the dregs of bullshit society. ‘I Am the Skel Messiah‘ reminds us of the Sodom and the Gomorrah in our feral hearts with its depraved sex obsession, drug-addled grindset and blackened schizo-thrashing maniac fuming as they push their primal extreme metal idealism to an outrageous and proudly ugly, unbound future hellscape. Expect severe conjunctivitis (at the very least) after peering into their glorious kaleidoscope of needles, jizz, blood, sweat and piss-soaked leather pants herein.

Born from the business end of a microphone-stuffed fleshlight circa 2013 Horns & Hooves was originally formed between Malebolge and Salpsan (Spite) and at that point they were both in the midst of developing their belief system, or, reactivity to black metal as it was being presented at the time… A sort of nutless, riffless esoteric fluff-fest too far removed from the hard rock, punk and heavy metal origins of the real thing. Instead of taking the usual retro route their first demo tape (‘Consecrate The Marrow‘, 2016), which included a communion wafer, seemed to attempt a conjoin between the finessed haunt introduced by idealists Negative Plane (via the rhythm guitar work) and the hateful rustiness of groups like N.M.E., the natural response to Venom in hindsight + modern elite black metal rhythmic insight as far as I’d heard it. This’d intensified into a full on personae on their first EP (‘Morbid Lust‘, 2017) where I guess I’d compared their sound to Cemetery Lust, Slutvomit, and ‘Gospel of the Insane‘-era Bestial Mockery at the time thanks to Malebolge‘s vocal expression and cadence intensifying. They’d at some point added a third member, drummer Orobas to the mix, freeing the hands of the multi-talented founders to accomplish a bit more and (I assume) merge into the realm of live performance.

If you’re not sure what all those references might’ve added up to, the best way to put it is black metal in the mid-80’s spirit, tinged with some bestial black/thrash late 90’s revisionism, but delivered by way of the 2010’s with plenty of riffs, shrieking abandon and a clear narrative of depravity and cocks-out heavy metal attitude. ‘I Am the Skel Messiah‘ continues along those lines but only insomuch as their over the top heavy metal style and putrid attitude (read: big personality) serve to juice up this keenly crafted black/heavy metal album into something that always feels wild, obnoxiously scrambling through its gutter-home and speaking in tongues as if in need of institutionalization yet ultimately producing a piece of fine junkyard art. That’d be the first major takeaway after countless runs-through, that these folks are pulling from idealism, taste, and classic personality-rich traditions in presented an album that’d feel uneven and surreal in its temporally irascible expressions if not for how -big- they go with their performances. Horns & Hooves would still be a fine mess of black metal mutantkind worth appreciating with dry stock vocals but it’d be silly as fuck to not tip my hat to Malebolge for his rabid vocals here up front, as those performances rate up there with Nekrofilth‘s Zack Rose in terms of leading a damned extreme metal experience rather than fumbling out bad poetry in the middle of it.

In terms of the listening experience ‘I Am the Skel Messiah‘ is split into two equilateral sides that fit precisely within the two-sided vinyl LP/cassette format and loosely reveal a theme and/or narrative which amounts to a fever dream representative of a misanthropic crew and their filthier-than-thou underground lifestyle. The tonality of it all ends up a drugged, grinning cocktail that might be horns-up bestial speed metalpunk sexual (“Gape My Blackened Hearts”) one moment and sentimental yet weirdly classic rockin’ mayhemic biker-bondage Quorthonian stew (“Baphomet in Steel”, “I Am the Skel Messiah”) the next — All of which’ll sit well with folks whom appreciate the 80’s black metal spirit, in terms of unbounded quick changes by way of metal, rock and punk stylized spread but likewise click with folks who like a bit of everything thrashing black metal has to offer otherwise. It will nonetheless take a certain sharpened ear enough to take in all of the myriad details Horns & Hooves‘ve splattered into each song. In this midst of all of these wilding n’ wheeling exploits each of the six main pieces presented sustain their own milestone within each full listen, such as the shrieking flip-outs and “I see the blood of the lamb…” ranting on “Baphomet in Steel”, one of two ‘epic’ 7-8 minute pieces which mirror each other on either side of the record. So, it isn’t exactly ‘We Are Death… Fukk You‘ in terms of a random assortment of insane bursts and various influences in the key of mania but I’d still gotten that sense of going -that- far with an idea ’til it reaches an absurd, too fuckin’ cool point of excess (see: “Endless Rosary”).

So, there are smaller details that’ll stick in mind to start such as the vocoder break in the opening track, the shriek of “Pull it out!” amidst psychedelic wobbling that kicks off “A Wailing, and a Weeping, and a Busting ov Cheeks”, and the skit where our crew shake down junkie Jesus (“Narcanaanite (The Infernal Dose)”) before the title track pulls a sort of Thin Lizzy meets Bathory sort of deal in its second half. Point being that there is a ride to take here which will likely distract from the riffs, the serious musicianship that bridges these points of gawk-worthy ‘tude and I figure that’d been the point, providing an experience that feels wild beyond the Warfare imitators and needle pushers we usually get from the usual black n’ roll/blackened speed metal crews (admittedly less frequently) today and giving us some solid musicianship without the same ole tropes… or at least different ones.

Horns & Hooves are the punkish, tongue-wagging mess of sex, drugs n’ blasphemous rock n’ roll that black metal should’ve been had it never taken its mainstream Scandinavian romanticist turn in the early 90’s, not a “cathartic” reflection of pan-European ache for cultural identity but a truly rotten working class middle finger pointed upwards at the world… nihilistic, high as Hell, and telling you exactly where to stick it. That’d been the feeling I’d gotten from it, anyhow, otherwise consider it a solid nowadays example of black metal that hasn’t forgotten its place as a natural extension of heavy metal as counter cultural defiance, shocking and wild shit that is on its own tear regardless what anyone else is doing. Beyond that ‘I Am the Skel Messiah‘ is a surprisingly serious production in the sense of being a well-curated and pro result in terms of stylized sound design which doesn’t betray the rottenness of its contents and, well, above all else it is a Hell of a ride to take. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:I Am the Skel Messiah
LABEL(S):Invictus Productions
RELEASE DATE:June 17th, 2022

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