Whitehorse - Fire to light the way / Everything ablaze - 12

Labels: Vendetta
Review by: Alex Hannan

This is a re-release of two tracks originally released as a one-sided 12″ in 2006, this time with the flipside occupied by a third song (all three have been collected before as the first CD of a s/t compilation on 20 Buck Spin). The original 12″ had an appealing balance to it – a seven-minute heavily abstract opener preparing the way for ten minutes of eerie doom – and on first glance, it seems strange to mess with the symmetry. In practice, it makes sense, as “Fire to light the way” and “Everything ablaze” now become the two-part entree to the 22-minute monster “The unwelcome return”.

Opener “Fire to light the way” is like an ante-chamber ritual – deep, downtuned bass notes that shiver and solidify like lava dropped in water, a buzzing organ drone, cymbal washes, hoarse vocals rasping out buried exhortations. A guitar line enters, scratching out a trail of distortion between two repeated notes over and over. There’s little sense of pulse, but rather a disorienting sense of slow shifting. It’s absorbing, and compels attention to its textures and ominous intensity.

Now that WHITEHORSE have you acclimatised to the dank, close atmosphere the filthy wave of “Everything ablaze” breaks over your head, as a doom-birthed riff begins an asymmetrical, stumbling plod. Synth scribbles halo the upper frequencies. It isn’t the polished heaviness of amplifier worship but a dark, demoralised, flesh-crawling pace. Just after 5 minutes the tempo quickens for a burst of intensity, but the material remains stripped down and unyielding. A melancholy guitar lead decorates the slow final minutes of the song.

Feedback launches “The unwelcome return” on side 2, before slowly wavering, ghostly vocal-like tones gradually start to arc out, rising and falling. The full band enters at a funereal, methodic pace, while the intonations provide an obscured backdrop, looming in and out. It’s a desolate atmosphere which evokes black metal timbres while coming from a more abstract, weirder place. There’s a slight unease caused by not quite knowing the source of the sounds of the ghostly flickerings occurring around the conventional band instrumentation. Eventually the drums drop out for a hushed interlude, the background tones fall away, and from the 6:30 point the instruments slowly pace back and forth in a semitone which continues almost unbroken to the bitter end. Yet the subtle changes and transformations that WHITEHORSE introduce maintain a hypnotic spell, synthetic tones buzzing around the guitars as the band kicks the song back into life and the vocals reappear.