Seven Horses succeeds because itâ€™s really good at being dark.
Seven Horses for Seven Kings is a horror-movie thrill ride elevated by its invocation of dread mythology, martial power, and arcane history; itâ€™s a great dark-room album that pretends, but not really, to be something more. It feels bigger and more significant than it is, but not in a way that sends us scuttling for meaning but in a way that makes us feel like weâ€™re witnessing a work of great art rather than B-grade schlock.
If a statement on Bandcamp is accurate, Marc Richter, the German who makes unsettling sound collages as Black to Comm, doesnâ€™t want us to read too deeply into his record. This is a relief given how vastly experimental albums whose press releases do all the talking outnumber ones that speak for themselves. Itâ€™s tempting, because the sound palate is grim and dissonant and because the recordâ€™s title is redolent of obscene power, to think of it as a political album. But that seems like a stretch, and Iâ€™d argue the title is just a nonsensical mishmash of demon iconography: seven kings of hell, seven seals, four horsemen of the apocalypse, and so on.
Seven Horses succeeds because itâ€™s really good at being dark. A lot of albums aim for true horror and just end up edgy or noisy, but this thing seems to conceal a lot of secrets. It brings to mind torches panning across archaic runes in dusty old temples. Thereâ€™s unmistakably something ancient about it, and not just because a lot of its samples come from medieval music. The density of the mix, together with a pleasing low-end, creates the illusion that everythingâ€™s half-buried in time and dust. Even when heâ€™s sampling free-jazz saxophones or the music of contemporary classical composer Nils Frahm, the music conjures the same gnosticism as Nicoâ€™s solo albums, the pained drones of the Third Ear Band, or the jeremiads of Current 93.
Itâ€™s also fleet on its feet in spite of spanning an hour across thirteen tracks. Unusually for an album thatâ€™s at least adjacent to ambientâ€”Richter disdains the termâ€”the tracks donâ€™t bleed into each other but cut off almost rudely, hoping weâ€™re prepared for whatâ€™s next. The individual tracks are more memorable than on most albums of its ilk, especially the liturgical organs of â€śLicking a Fig Treeâ€ť or the plangent shimmer of â€śAngel Investor.â€ť That latter track, in spite of its oily title, is the recordâ€™s most satisfying reprieve, leaving behind all the prophecies and revelations to indulge in the gauzy, bass-boosted drone of Rafael Anton Irisarri or latter-day Gas.
Is it frivolous, in a time when fascism is on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic and the world catapults towards almost-certain doom at the hands of climate change, to use imagery of gods and kings and the end of the world in the service of whatâ€™s basically a haunted house? Absolutely not: an artist shouldnâ€™t speak up on these ills if they have nothing to say, lest they send the wrong message. If Seven Horses for Seven Kings reveals anything about our times, itâ€™s that theyâ€™re awful enough that an album like this feels like escapism.