Dark Horse White Horse – Dark Horse White Horse
Nearly 2 years back when I first heard that Marcela Bovio (Ayreon, MaYan, Stream of Passion, The Gentle Storm) was starting a metal project with Vuur’s Jord Otto, I instantly knew it was something to get hyped about. Now, the debut EP “Dark Horse White Horse” is gearing up for release and the symphonic and prog metal communities should take note. Despite it being a 5-track E.P. with just over 20 minutes runtime, this beautiful beastie is a unique and truly special project that completely took me by surprise.
The production of Dark Horse White Horse is very full, powerful and imposing with a crisp, clear and striking sound. The first thing that hooked me before I even had the chance to think about the music itself was just the incredible sound quality and volume. What can I say? It was Joost van den Broek working his magic on this one. And then we start looking at what these musical maniacs are actually doing. First off, this is quite the supergroup when we take a look at the full line-up. Marcela and Jord Otto are both very important figures in the Dutch progressive and symphonic metal scene and to create this record they were joined by keyboardist Ruben Wijga (Blackbriar, ex-ReVamp) and as session members, bass prodigy Siebe Sol Sijpkens (Phantom Elite, Destiny Potato, Sordid Pink) and the one and only Ariën van Weesenbeek from Epica and MaYan on the drums. Now that’s quite the dynamic cocktail when you think about all the music that these have put together throughout their careers. This band may just be starting but there’s no rookie business going on. They know exactly what they’re doing and you can hear that in every second of their EP.
The music itself is strongly progressive, somewhat in the vein of a more modern, techy sounding Dream Theater, going slightly towards djenty sounds but not in full. The guitar sound still maintains a lot of punch and volume that often gets flattened by the extremely processed production in djent bands. This does not happen in Dark Horse White Horse, the sound is still massive and organic enough to express powerful emotion, but processed enough to take the atmosphere towards the realms of sci-fi, more on that later. Jord’s riffs are incredibly badass in attitude and quite complex in structure but balanced and directed. The music is complex and technical but for anyone with a prog-trained ear you can clearly notice that it is also very hooky and engaging. The drums are galloping a lot but unlike Epica drum parts, here we have a lot more transitions and sudden shifts in pace or direction, unveiling a more versatile playing style from Ariën. The bass doesn’t flash forward too much since the guitar sound is hefty enough, but it is also not drowned out by the guitars and makes its presence known, providing a very menacing low-end rumble to the sound.
So in terms of heaviness, technicality and complexity, they aced it. But what about melody and emotion? Well, the keyboards, lead sections and effects play a huge role in that, and need I remind you there’s Marcela Bovio on the vocals? Despite having not heard every single project she sung on, I would take the leap and say this is probably the most intense and dramatic performance she has delivered to date. She goes into operatic registers quite often, raising the goosies all over your skin and she also belts out some incredibly sorrowful, dramatic wails. The grittiness also seeps into her voice plenty, showing a more cathartic edge to the vocal part. The emotion she portrays on this record is quite shocking as the entire album has a striking dramatic tone. Moments of rage, fear and pain come forth strongly, often accompanied by dramatic orchestration, ominous synthesizers and some particularly spook-ish layers of backing vocals scattered throughout the songs. Seeing the dark, desperate and almost nihilistic lyrics in the 2 singles, I kinda got the idea of the theatrical drama that they’re aiming for, going almost along the lines of what you might find in a Greek tragedy. But the modern sound and Ruben’s highly digital synth effects stir it towards an apocalyptic sci-fi movie or video-game imagery. And yet, the mash-up of vibes works incredibly well. To top it off, both Ruben and Jord throw in some incredibly fiery solos where shredding and technicality come to storm the sound even further until it starts sounding like havoc is raging all around.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t chaotic or noisy to create the doomsday effect, actually quite the opposite. The compositions are very well structured and organized, almost guiding the listener through the emotional development of the music. The chaotic feeling rather comes from the passion and freedom of expression that they’ve allowed themselves to display while exploring some of the darkest emotions and dynamics I’ve heard in these genres.
The songs all make use of more or less of the same elements but each has its own unique trick up its sleeve. ‘Judgement Day’ is a constant wall of sound with an epic ear-worm chorus that will glue itself to your brain, infect your DNA and become part of your existence til’ the end of time! ‘Black Hole’ is probably the most hectic and punishing song on the record with a fast tempo, lots of progressive chops and transitions and extreme technicality. ‘The Spider’ follows a similar pace but with less impact and aggression, turning towards a more melodic effect and amplifying the groove. ‘Get Out’ is the strongest on keyboards, electronic effects and eerie atmosphere, and it strangely reminds me of Muse. This might be my favourite song. And then there’s ‘Cursed’ which seems to balance out most of the elements and bring more volume on the orchestral layers.
Admittedly, I went into this with a very strong positive bias as the genre and the artists making up this project all did good things for me musically in the past. But this project is truly unique and very impressive. It’s metal enough to set against your neighbors, dramatic enough to be performed on an Opera stage and experimental enough to bend genres just about enough to avoid being boxed into any category. It stands on its own a superb musical entity, proving once again that when it comes to symphonic or progressive sounds, you simply don’t mess with the Dutch!
- Judgement Day (04:01)
- Black Hole (04:14)
- The Spider (04:16)
- Get Out (04:12)
- Cursed (05:21)