Release date: 21 May 2021 Label: Inverse Records
Hundred Headless Horsemen first formed in Helsinki, Finland in 2014 after one of the members received a half-eaten reindeer skull in the mail. It is this skull that feeds the band wisdom and has led them through years of self-discovery to create their music. Totally anonymous, the quartet prefers to let their music speak for them, and it has a lot to say. Combining psychedelia and death metal, they have found a harmony that makes them interesting and accessible without being catchy. Heavy distortion clouds the vocals and an eerie reverb makes blistering riffs more ominous under viscous drum beats. Their sound is almost primal, new yet somehow untouched by modern hands. Like the skull that guides them, it is pure, impenetrable animalism.
After the release of their self-titled EP in 2015, Hundred Headless Horsemen came into their own almost immediately with the HEXAGON EP (2016). Avoiding lengthy intros or overly repetitive verses, they like to get right into the meat of the music. Sometimes, however, that takes a bit of digging. The band says it all started after stumbling across a few scientific articles describing a formerly unknown psychoneurological condition. This condition, called apokalepsia, is known to cause seizures and hallucinations in the afflicted when faced with a life in a world destined to die. Curious to know more, the group worked together on a concept album to detail what they found. Five years in the making, Hundred Headless Horsemen have now released their first album: Apokalepsia.
Starting with a faint but rising hum, The Road opens the album strong at a lengthy 11 minutes. A single guitar plays a haunting refrain, eventually joined by another guitar and a hint of drums. Then finally, the band plays together, hard-hitting and slightly discordant with clearer vocals than previous releases. The refrain of the guitar is a constant, starting as a stranger but soon becoming a friend to guide the listener along. This track has a few stops and starts, both sudden enough to be confusing and subtle enough to make you question how long the music has been gone. In these pauses, the mist clears and the endless unknown can be clearly perceived. It is almost relieving to have the guitars come back, stronger and more desperate each time. However, the final pause has no reprieve, leaving the listener falling into nothingness, a scream caught in their throat.
A previous single, No Longer Human leads with a guitar that is ominous and almost cartoonishly creepy. Underneath, the vocals are raspy growls that threaten to swallow the guitar. Only the drums stand between them, the mediator in this otherworldly battle. An imperceivable shift happens in the music throughout. Incrementally, it hits harder, like adrenaline is rushing through the song itself. It has a sudden yet prolonged death, the track ending in a fadeout and the sound of rain. The rain comes pouring over Breath of Death, a duet between the guitars where one cries plaintively and the other grumbles in disagreement, the bass refusing to pick sides. Upon a close listen, the vocals here are actually somewhat choral when not violently spat out. That doesn’t mean to lose focus. This track shifts from hair-raising to headbanging in an instant, all while keeping a psychedelic melody that makes you sway.
Echoes is another single, and halfway through the album, one should know to expect the unexpected. The emptiness of the opening is broken by a startling beat set from the drums. The abyss behind the drums seems to dislike the intrusion, and it encroaches upon the track throughout. This song is hypnotizing, fixing the listener with strange notes played by the guitar, prolonged whines sounding sentient. It is arguably scary, a sense of dread mandatory. When the band stops playing, a full minute before the end, it becomes obvious just how alone you really are. Existentialism fades away with the explosive energy of Spleen, a breath of fresh air in this uncomfortable mind palace. This track is heavy yet mellow, loud but cordial, a contradiction that one shouldn’t question. The pauses here are much shorter than other tracks but happen in quicker succession, creating a sense of confusion near the end. This is aided by the change in both pace and melody which move, shift, and then once again die. The sound of crashing waves ends this track and it is not certain if anything even happened at all.
The final track, Cataclysm, is also a single, and very different from the rest of the album. The vocals are clean here and mimic the wandering guitars, dipping close to psychedelic sludge. The whole thing is monotonous in a comforting way, the guitars and bass hitting the same beats as the drums. As usual, this doesn’t last long, the song nearly splitting into two as it reforms. Fragmented and blindly searching, this track reaches out for you and it is not wise to join in. If you can withstand its beseeching long enough, it eventually gives in, the vocals letting out a final groan. There is nothing but a slightly abrasive hum running through that slowly fades into nothingness as you walk out the now-open door.
A Final Word
Slithering forward like heat-exhausted reptiles, Hundred Headless Horsemen took a while to start, but now they’re impossible to stop. Opening themselves to a path of self-discovery and spilling out whatever they find, this band is dark, emotional, inquisitive, and clandestine. They are truly unique and playing a completely different game than the rest of the artists in adjacent scenes. Every track they write has a feeling of deep importance and it is frustrating that the knowledge kept within can’t be understood. Apokalepsia is a masterwork and worthy of multiple re-listens to peel back the layers and find some clarity. One can only hope that Hundred Headless Horsemen won’t take another five years for their next surely incredible release.
- Horseman IV – Vocals, guitar
- Horseman III – Vocals, guitar
- Horseman II – Bass
- Horseman I – Drums
- The Road
- No Longer Human
- Breath of Death