By their own admission, Texas-based hard rockers have a sound that is hard to pin down, or at least put in one of those convenient pigeonholes that musical journalists like to use. Creating a heady melting pot of seventies classic rock vibes, infused with influences of psychedelic indulgence, crunching doom, occult mumbo jumbo and (of course) huge walls of distilled Black Sabbath blues. After The Fall very much feels like it is time to put your flared trousers on, hang up your Stetson, settle back into a room full of cushions and beanbags, fire up the lava lamps, and load up a bong in anticipation for a sonic dissertation in shit kicking country flavoured rawk music.
If like me you have been searching for the spiritual kin to Scissorfight or even the Texas Hippie Coalition you might have high hopes for Thunder Horse and their third full-length, following their DIY self-released, self-titled debut in 2018 and their Ripple Music backed sophomore album Chosen One in 2021. With bold statements on their website like ‘slow, low and brutal’ my hopes for the album were for eight whiskey-soaked tales and the soundtrack to bar fights and broken teeth.
The title track ushers in languid southern rock over retro-sounding organs, steeped in blues-based guitars the slow-paced opener swaggers in with Steven Bishop’s commanding rasp in a robust style that never quite breaks out into an anthem but beats you over the head with the mantra-like shouts of ’After The Fall!’
The music has a dark, filthy edge as it builds towards a jangling, chaotic jam that sees Guitar Hero-level histrionics in a throwback to the masters of the riff lords like Blackmore and Iommi. Despite this heavyweight start, it feels like the band are setting the scene, like they are surveying the wreckage of the morning after the night before and they never quite shake off the hangover and go for the throat.
This downbeat feel continues on New Normal which again features more impressive fretwork but lumbers in at the same pace, drawing out the building tension and moody lyrics. Featuring a delicious clanking low-end rumble from bassist Dave Crow, the open spaces in-between the notes are punctuated by the guitars and the rhythmic chanting of the chorus gives the band a doomy edge that is part desert rock stoner vibe and grungy Alice In Chains like motion sickness that would feel right at home in smoke-filled jam rooms and dingy bars.
Monolith is finally where the band seem to shake themselves out of this stupor and set off at a pace more akin to what I was expecting. Swinging back and forth between staccato barks and a roaring battering, the track features all the same elements as the previous two but turns the dial up, not quite to eleven, but several notches of pace and intensity. After rolling up their sleeves and getting down and dirty, the middle break dances between guitar acrobatics and a powerful chug before stopping dead, only to return with the drawn-out teasing atmospherics again.
part desert rock stoner vibe and grungy Alice In Chains like motion sickness that would feel right at home in smoke-filled jam rooms…
After this barrage of riffing, The Other Side sees Thunder Horse switching tact to bring in the obligatory ballad, short and sweet at just over two minutes, it is built around hazy soft vocals and dreamy, bright guitar work over more organs. The darker tones of Apocalypse then banishes that moment as Bishop spits venom and the music rises in power like the gathering of a storm on the horizon. As they work towards the hook, the chorus is melodic and terrifying until they abandon the feel of armageddon for a head-banging workout.
The drum intro to Inner Demon might be worth the price of admission alone as it feels like all the elements combine to glorious effect on the most complete offering on the album. Tribal toms, dexterous lead work and the anthemic cry of ’It’s time to get fucked up’ give the listener the impression that the band have shaken off the effects of the night before and are flexing their muscles.
Aberdeen however goes a more classic route and harks back to prime NWOBHM as over a cantering refrain the band channel that late seventies/early eighties sound that in parts wouldn’t be out of place on albums by Iron Maiden or even Thin Lizzy. They do however update the delivery with vocals that straddle the line between soaring melody and tough punk biker edge that seems to make it flash by before you know it.
The album rounds out with Requiem which teases being a softer track but morphs into something more elastic in definition and in particular the vocals betray a homage to Ministry’s Filth Pig era crawl which reflects Bishop’s background in the Texas industrial scene. Almost like an organic version of The Fall crossed with the Bob Dylan cover of Lay Lady Lay, Thunder Horse swerves the listener with something unexpected and is definitely one of the more interesting highlights on After The Fall.
There is no doubt that Thunder Horse contain a lot of talent and there are so many moments interspersed throughout the album that show the band has serious chops when they hit their stride but repeated listens saw me go back and forth on how I felt about it overall. There is nothing bad during its fourty minutes runtime and I will hold my hands up and say that just because they didn’t quite give me the album I wanted to hear means they are at fault.
My overall impression is that they want to stretch their songwriting and be more than a hard-rocking blues-drenched act from Texas and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, the moments when they are exactly that or they lean back on their industrial heritage, for me, make for more compelling listening.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden