While Horseburner’s brand of melodic sludge has always had hints of classic metal flavor, these influences are pushed to the forefront on their second full-length album The Thief. The foundation is still shaped by gritty production and fuzzy riffs, but the guitar work is more flamboyant than before, the burly vocals are delivered more tunefully, and the tone is more triumphant. The shift reminds me of the recent trajectory undertaken by Spirit Adrift, albeit not as streamlined and without that project’s distinctly cathartic nature.
The Thief brings more variety into Horseburner’s songwriting method. The West Virginians have been accustomed to lengthier numbers since their earliest EPs, but the dynamics are considerably broader this time around. Just about every song features some sort of tempo change whether it be the more extreme beginnings of “Drowning Bird” and “Fathoms” or the acoustic flourishes and melodic dives on songs like “The Fisherman’s Vow” and “The Oak.” The drums keep an almost proggy sense of timing throughout, ensuring smooth transitions and overall cohesion.
Going along with that, these songs are also some of the most accessible that Horseburner has written thus far. “A Joyless King” is an immediate highlight as its straightforward mid-tempo chug takes on an almost power metal flavor during the chorus. Even the interludes are striking as the title track serves as a glorious two-minute opening fanfare while “Seas Between” is a clean introspective interlude.
Those who like their sludge with extra helpings of prog and classic metal will find a lot to love on Horseburner’s second full-length. The Thief has drastically cleared the high benchmark set by 2016’s Dead Seeds, Barren Soil, offering a style that is more varied and accessible but stays true to the band’s heavy fuzz vision. It isn’t quite the sing-along breakthrough in the vein of recent Mastodon or Baroness but along with contemporaries in groups like Howling Giant and Forming the Void, Horseburner could very well be a contender for the throne. At the very least, it’s a strong introduction for those unacquainted.
“A Joyless King”
“The Fisherman’s Vow”