The term “avant-garde” is generally used to make something seem especially sophisticated or enticing. In the music industry especially, it’s become something of a buzz word rather than a way of classifying the un-classifiable. When applying the term to metal, it’s probably best used in reference to bands that straddle the lines between several genres, some of which may or not even be metal. Horseback lands in that exact spot, though they are assuredly metal in some way. The above youtube link is to the title track from their 2010 offering, “The Invisible Mountain”. While the lockstep drums are firmly rooted in metal, the twanging guitars and blackened ambiance are more suggestive of folk. In metal, when the word “folk” is tossed about, the predominant image is that of Scandinavian and pagan folk, the likes of which were popularized by Finntroll and Ulver. It’s in this regard that Horseback truly deserve the label of “avant-garde”, for they turn away from the overplayed shtick of Scandinavian folk and turn to the American prairie. Vocalist/guitarist/group mastermind Jenks Miller builds soundscapes that are immediately evocative of wide spaces - ethereal, psychedelic montages that evoke the sinister emptiness of windswept plains. Hints of tambourine and the snakelike, mystical lead guitar riff expand upon the folk base. What I love about Horseback is that they aren’t afraid to let a song build upon itself - many metal bands shy away from building upon a motif, instead choosing to insert a breakdown or a chorus. By contrast, Miller is patient, and lets the track flow, exploring an astral sonic space that deviates from the feedback-heavy low end that opens the track. When it comes time to reign in the wandering, Miller snaps everything back into focus with a ferocious rasp and the re-emergence of that incredible lead riff. The vocals themselves add an unsettling tone to the overall work, keeping the song firmly rooted as the rest of the instruments roam. Miller runs his voice through a filter, his blackened rasp weaving auditory hallucinations through the instrumentation like wind through tall grass. After more than twenty listens, I’m still unsure what genre this record falls under - from the pounding groove of “Invokation” to the spectral, peace pipe-fueled drone of “Hatecloud Dissolving Into Nothing”, there’s an incredible array of influence at work, and the linked track is but one example. Like I said earlier: avant-garde. For those who may be interested in hearing more, Horseback released an excellent record in 2012, entitled “Half Blood”, on Relapse Records. It contains more ambient and drone parts than “The Invisible Mountain”, but it’s masterfully executed and a compelling listen.