Bands split up for any number of reasons – conflicting personalities, ‘musical differences’, members with substance abuse problems, struggling with the lifestyle and innumerate other motives. After sixteen years in the game, London’s Palehorse had survived lineup upheavals, the vicissitudes of touring and gigging, and the great hungry maw of the industry as the whole. Their split is possibly the rarest of all – an amicable, adult decision to put their horses out to pasture. Luckily they’ve left a gristly little nugget clinging to the bedsheets in the form of fourth (and final) album ‘Looking Wet In Public’
The five piece have always sneered at something as petty as genre. Their two bassist rhythmic attack sees them dredging sludgy waters, but their turns of speed and ferocity hints at a hardcore edge. Throw in experimentations with noise, samples, synths and spoken word, and it’s clear that you’re not going to be able to compare them to many other artists easily.
Opener ‘Half Lizard/Half Lizard’ is testament to this – a super brief electro build up (like the vamp from an 80’s B movie) is lost in an explosion of darkly shifting bass groove and Nikolai Grune’s venomous screech of “This is the last chance” (a knowing lyric, if ever there was one). The razor-sharp bass ploughs on with a sense of urgency, backed by tom and kick heavy drums like a dark, turbulent undertow. Things speed up before opening out with perverse grandiosity, before exhausting itself, the drums slowing down, the bass locking in tight while spiralling synth noise jaunts off. The deliberate bass trudges on, feedback rising to each side, whispered vocals lying maddeningly in the periphery while strident barks speak of unshakable frustration. A huge, tolling bass line takes shape beneath the vocal layers, before returning to the pachydermic vamp, then ending abruptly.
‘Miserable Heroin Addict vs. Jehovah's Witness Guy’ begins with clean bass before some clattering drums drag you head first into the massive bass looping we come to expect from Palehorse. Grune’s caustic screech comes back in, and the track alternates between pummelling you with a towering wall of noise and dropping into a flatulent, murderous groove, before closing out with a dense fog of synth and bass that wouldn’t be out of place in the middle of an industrial floor filler. ‘Lambs To The Laughter’ broods immediately with a steady cymbal clang and rumbling bass hook. A rising air of bleakness and desolation emanates from the stillness and negative-space, punctuated by blasts of rising noise and throat-ripping vocals. The bass repeats endlessly, whispers, voices and feedback rising, before rapid drum fills kick into gear, and the layers of voices are subsumed by a huge, wearied riff sliced through by almost black metal shrieks.
It’s the soundtrack to Palehorse galloping into the sunset, middle fingers raised.
‘The Shower’ is all moody bass runs, spoken word vocals, and kick drum stutter, before ramping up into big, grinding riffs and ragged, crowing screams, and then again into a direct, chugging bass build, before a slow, rolling close that allows Ben Dawson to fully stretch his wings with some tasty shuffling drum fills, stringing out the sinewy grooves. Uncomfortable feedback heralds ‘Terrifying Japanese Coldplay Documentary’, which springs to life with the meatiest, meanest bass line you’ll have heard for quite some time. It’s an unstoppable, rampant groover, which only subsides for a jarring noise-rock build, before returning under the surface, adding on bulky layer after bulky layer, building to a blisteringly intense finale.
‘1893’ kicks off with a running bass-and- drum lick right out of the Palehorse playbook, before opening out with held bass notes. When the ‘drop’ comes, it’s like a tonne of glass down an elevator shaft, exploding into jagged edges and overwhelming intensity. Some towering, juddering held notes are underscored by a droning synth ‘alarm’, before the riff winds down with a final squelch of feedback. An ingenious, fitting end.
For a band who thrive on challenging themselves and the listener, it’s difficult to say if Looking Wet In Public is the quintessential Palehorse album. What it is is a visceral, shifting, unstoppable juggernaut of a record that is equal parts ugly, bleak, satisfying and hateful. As an epitaph, it’s an irrefutable statement of what the band were about. It’s the gristly, cloying moneyshot of a sixteen year career. It’s the soundtrack to Palehorse galloping into the sunset, middle fingers raised. And It’s fucking glorious.