Finnish drone/doom quartet Horse Latitudes (not to be confused with Australian hard rock trio Stallion Longitudes or Luxembourgian dream pop duo Pony Equators) leave a lot to the imagination. Consisting of a – frequently rather restrained – mix of bass, drums, Moog and vocals, Primal Gnosis is metal with its foot off the gas. The absence of guitar means those in search of crushing riffs should apply elsewhere, but those more interested in the imagery that can be conjured up by music that’s as heavy in atmosphere as in tone.
Think of Horse Latitudes, then, as placed somewhere between Bongripper and Sunn O))). They lack the latter’s avant-garde pretensions, but the noticeable lack of guitar renders their sound more spacious than most metal groups of this ilk. However at the same time one doesn’t really feel that Horse Latitudes find their motivation in pushing sonic boundaries. The reasoning behind their records seems to be more about sharing the group’s enormous passion for all things heavy. 'Heavy' is used here not just to refer to metal, but also to psychedelia, the influence of which can be found throughout Primal Gnosis. Largely because of this, in many ways this is what one might imagine drone/doom might have sounded like had it been invented two decades earlier. There’s a distinct classic doom vibe, if not so much in the bellowing vocals than in the loose interplay between bass and drums and the occasional bout of Moog histrionics.
Of the five tracks assembled here (one is a short interlude; the others are all ten minutes-plus in length) ‘Spirals’ is a notable highlight; the slowly ascending melodic bass riff that dominates its mid-section acting as the calm between the two maelstroms that bookend the track. The real triumph of the album, however, is penultimate effort ‘New Dawn’. It’s the best paced track on the record, the change of pace that occurs around three minutes in being the most convincing and most exhilarating moment of its kind in the band’s catalogue to date. The descent into ferocious noise as the track reaches its conclusion is also impressively timed. Drummer and vocalist Harri even does a decent impression of a wretchedly pissed Nick Cave near the beginning (later on, after some feral black metal-esque screaming, he’s more like a wretchedly pissed Nick Holmes from Paradise Lost).
If Primal Gnosis has a major fault then it is undoubtedly the fact that, for all its many good points, it isn’t quite engaging enough to justify its hour-plus length. Whilst such a meaty runtime may be the norm in this style of music, that doesn’t mean it is always wholly necessary. Closer ‘Beast of Waste and Desolation’ is illustrative of this. At over 21 minutes in length, it is around three minutes longer than anything else on the record. This may not sound like a lot but in the context of Primal Gnosis it feels unnecessarily protracted. The album is left to crawl rather dissatisfyingly towards its end, having already exhausted all its tension and tricks.
Given the fact the unique feel of Horse Latitudes’ recordings, and the strength of this album’s highlights, Primal Gnosis is certainly worthy of the seal of approval. The slight issues of length that are most noticeable at its conclusion are difficult to be too harsh on, if only because they could be said to be more damningly problematic on plenty of other drone/doom records. This is a more than solid effort from a band that clearly deserve to be considered as at the forefront of this ever more prominent subgenre.
7Benjamin Bland's Score