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Whitehorse > Live at Sinkagura, Osaka 29.06.2005 > Reviews
Whitehorse - Live at Sinkagura, Osaka 29.06.2005

I have heard the future of doom and it is good. - 91%

MosquitoControl, November 28th, 2007

Of all the myriad genres and subgenres of heavy metal, extreme doom is the most confounding to the casual listener. Even though most of the bands have strong tethers to a traditional metal sound via the standard guitar/bass/drums and/or keyboard set up, many extreme doom bands have moved so far beyond metal as to be truly unclassifiable, adrift on the seas of drone, ambient, power electronics, noise, psychedelia and minimalism.

Whitehorse is a perfect example of doom metal gone schizophrenic and Live at Sinkagura, Osaka 29.06.2005 sees them at their weirdest best. This was one in a series of live recordings that introduced the band to a larger audience (only an extreme doom band would think to release three live albums before ever entering a recording studio), especially those outside their native Australia.

Many live recordings do not have good sound, usually falling into one of two traps: the shiny, super-produced, overdub-laden studio-lite fare that almost removes the live feeling; or the piss-poor, maxed-out levels, handheld tape recorder from the back of the audience that preserves the live feeling but captures as much crowd noise and hiss as it does music. Whitehorse chose a third option: raw, unpolished soundboard quality that showcases every instrument by having them all at the same level in the mix. The bass is clearly audible (or what passes for bass, so massively distorted is the tone and strangely arhythmic is the playing); the drums are loud and full, no flat kick drum or digitized hollow sounding floor toms (the ride and crash are slightly up front in the mix, as it should be in good extreme doom); the guitars function more as counterpoints than focal points and could have been slightly louder (but given the powerful bass that drives the music, this could be a purposeful decision); even the vocals are clear (clear might not be the right word, as they are mostly just garbled growls and screams). Add into this near-perfect mix some electronic screeches, drones, howls, noises and you have a live recording that has both clarity (surprising given the nature of the music) and real density (a necessity given the nature of the music).

But good sound quality would be all for naught if Whitehorse wasn't playing music worth listening to. Live at Sinkagura, Osaka 29.06.2005 is a strange amalgam of numerous styles. They trade primarily in the torrentially heavy doom made famous by Khanate, Corrupted and Buried At Sea; but, and this might be because it's a live recording, one gets the feeling the band would be equally comfortable jettisoning the traditional instruments all together and launching into Controlled Bleeding/Bastard Noise/Wolf Eyes style noise freakouts. At numerous points in the one, long, untitled track, the majority of the actual music is provided by synthesizers (or as it says on the cover, "squalls"). Neither do the guitarists seem intent on playing one riff or a variation of that riff ad infinitum, this has little in common with the stoner doom of Sleep and Electric Wizard; instead, this hews in the direction of free jazz and what seems like endless improvisation; there are thematic elements that are repeated, but the repetition occurs in minutes and not measures. The guitarists, and to some extent the drummer, borrow from modern drone, sometimes sustaining single notes or drum hits until they have faded out, creating a sense of enormous heaviness not necessarily by what is present but by what is missing. The incredible amount of reverb and distortion on this album almost deserve their own listing in the credits. Throw in a vocalist whose screams are equal to those of any black metal misanthrope and whose growls could anchor any of the new "old school" death metal bands and it makes for a harrowing listen.

So what? Extreme doom bands with disparate influences are common nowadays, right? What separates Whitehorse from the rest of these seems quaint at first, but proves to be a major asset in the end. These guys no how to compose music. And they do so by avoiding the cliches that plague so many other heavy bands that write long songs, both in doom metal and other genres. This untitled track is not structured like so much other current heavy music; it doesn't start quiet and then slowly build over ten or fifteen or even twenty minutes into a supposedly magnificent crashing crescendo, rather the song starts heavy and dark then procedes to vacillate between two extremes: supreme all-encompassing dark matter heaviness; and droning noisy negative space black hole ambience. These opposites are used to create massive tension giving rise to a suffocating musical atmosphere; as such the music seems to move forward more in fits and starts than with any sort of normal rhythm, setting Whitehorse apart from the hundreds of other bands that simply slow doom down without changing the actual structure of the composition.

Whitehorse may not have rewritten the extreme doom metal rule book with Live at Sinkagura, Osaka 29.06.2005, but they have written their own lengthy addendum. They are making truly interesting and compelling heavy music by not adhering to the tenets of standard doom or standard metal, and fans of adventuresome metal, or or adventuresome fans of non-metal from outsider genres like drone, power electronics and noise would benefit immensely from tracking this release down. For those fans this will not disappoint.

Lethargic and trundling doom metal - 78%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, February 12th, 2007

They might not have a stable line-up but Whitehorse's music has changed quite a bit since they recorded "Live - Oct / Nov 2004" seven months before they did this Sinkagura live recording. The rhythms are now very lethargic and trundley and the music now lopes and lurches like a sleepwalking drunk on the verge of total collapse. The singing is a bit more prominent and go from a series of distant echoing howls early on to scarecrow croak and later to Stone Age caveman rumble. As the rhythm section goes clunk-clunk-clunk, various effects suggesting the rise and rise of alien spaceships into the sky are busy in the background in case you hadn't noticed. That's entirely understandable because all your attention is absorbed by the rhythm slowly clobbering your mind into a trance state.

The background noises come to the fore and turn out to be distorted guitar noises and "squalls". The musicians go through a quiet introverted phase with prolonged guitar drones and feedback that'd do Sunn0))) proud and build up very slowly and agonisingly to a knuckle-crawling sludge state with demented gravelly Neanderthal vocals and trudging out-of-tune riffs. A deep wobbly drone hides behind the bass and thunk-thunk of the drums. The funniest part comes when the guys slow right down, ri-i-i-ight down and the caveman singer reduces his warblings into Godzilla tummy rumbles. This brings us to another evolutionary phase in Whitehorse's Old Stone Age metal with probably the catchiest (???) or at least the most memorable out-of-synch drunken or narco-affected sludge metal guitar riffs this side of the next Ice Age plus more of those Palaeolithic growling vocals. This is actually quite a pleasant trawl, the musicians obviously think so too since they continue it for a while, and no big surprises or dramas or giant extinction-causing meteor falls occur save for the passage of feedback drones and caveman hum going up and down the scale.

For a one-track recording the music mooches along without any major climaxes or troughs but there's quite a lot of variety there so it's never boring. The singing can be funny or silly depending on your point of view about whether deep clunking doom metal should have any business with squawks, groans and belly-aches coming from a lunatic vocalist. Space-age synth-sounding effects somehow sound just right alongside ancient hunter-gatherer rhythms and guitar riffs that seem to fall on your head like boulders off a cliff. The structure of the music is loose to the extent that parts barely connect with one another and at times two songs or at least parts from two songs are floating in one long piece. If you're the type who thinks they don't need song-structured music to be happy and you're keen to investigate improvised metal (more or less - parts of this recording could be song fragments spliced into an otherwise all-improvised music session), you should check out this recording. It's very likely to appeal to fans of Boris and Corrupted and indeed various members of Corrupted are mentioned in the CD sleeve credits.