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Whitehorse > Live at Sinkagura, Osaka 29.06.2005 > Reviews > MosquitoControl
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.