If you were fortunate enough to check out Never Surrender, you’ll be aware of the group’s mildly eighties to early nineties blend of hard rock and thrash metal that came off like a cross between Black Label Society and Metallica. While it was far from bad, Horse of Hellchanges things up quite a bit, especially in the production values. Instead of that relatively analog sound, this new EP has a much more crisp, modern approach that really accentuates the slower epic melodies incorporated this time around. Consider this more a return to the days of early Manowar chugs and Iron Maiden grandeur with a blend of hard rock and even a vocal approach comparable to Falconer to introduce a hint of folk to the entire effort as well, which is a much welcomed additional touch. Of course, the rich drums and bass guitar presence shouldn’t be overlooked either, nicely filling out this surprisingly moody entry to the group’s discography, if not taking command of the situation entirely to benefit said atmospheres.
Horse of Hell clocks in at twenty-four minutes across four tracks, pacing itself quite well to keep the listener engaged in a way sometimes similar to the hazy stoner metal or doom landscapes Black Sabbath or Candlemass would unleash. The group’s flagship track “Eisenhauer” is a perfect example with its smoke filled riffs of pure glory between bouts of heavy metal speed and a sixties rock guitar solo with matching mono sounding cleaner distortion about four minutes in, signalling a change to subtle early Iron Maiden heights similar to “Hallowed by thy Name” in so many ways. In fact, there are times where you can swap out the lyrics and it’ll be about the same, though, truthfully, this is due more to the simplistic nature making it far more open to interpretation than that of plagiarism or hero-worship.
But that’s just the conclusion, and not even the best of what this entry has to offer. Before that head banging mandate lies “Sail my Soul”, one that greatly plays up the aforementioned stoner angle in the introduction before pushing cleaner chords against a setting of dark waves (represented by the guitars and not actual audio samples) crashing ashore through the clean folk vocals and deeper bass presence that bulks up the riffs perfectly to add enough edge to the rough waters. Much of this can also be said for “Never Surrender”, taking advantage of the personal touch from the slower pace allowing the band to flesh the song out further than had it been handled in the group’s original sound. But then there’s the title track “Horse of Hell”, which immediately grabs the listener through obvious influence from the likes of Johnny Cash and even The Animals with a hint of Tyr flair, making it one of the more addicting songs present.
Horse of Hell marks a dynamic new direction of Eisenhauer, and hopefully it isn’t just a one-off experience to tease listeners. Unlike their previous outing, this one feels far more personal and developed, leaving behind many of the traditional heavy metal and thrash metal tropes that started the group off. While that original sound was far from bad, there wasn’t much of a unique sound to their debut album because of it. Thankfully the members have greatly matured heading into this four song recording. Eisenhauer have superbly merged plenty of different styles, both influential to metal and staple ideas that formed from that very outcome, and it works out great to weave an engrossing, remarkably epic effort, making Horse of Hell one of the more vital releases to sneak through the underground for 2015.