On The Sacred Truth and My Horns Are A Flame To Draw Down The Truth Christopher Walton as TenHornedBeast crafted a sound so bleak and desolate you might wonder how they could evolve. With greater emphasis on bass and percussion, it's clear that Hunts & Wars is an altogether different beast. On this their third album they present three shorter interludes to the four expansive tracks, each offering a lighter tone to the dank, oppressive sound prevalent of their previous releases.
Having said that the opener here, 'Reaching For The Stars We Blind The Sky', is definitely one of TenHornedBeast's finer moments, with its dark arching drone and controlled guitar feedback that makes up their doom sonic sound. Here a funereal procession of drums bashes out a primal beat that continuously becomes more thunderous amidst cymbal crashes and heavy bass drones. TenHornedBeast's guitar drone carries the torturous squall of eighties guitar noise bands such as Skullflower, even though at the hands of TenHornedBeast it is reduced to a slower-than-slow sluggish crawl.
Unlike their previous releases, percussion plays a pivotal role on Hunts & Wars. It's most evident on 'I Am The Spearhead' where rhythmic wrenching gives way to cymbal crashing and pounding beats. It's almost as if Walton has swapped drones for rhythms to create the layers. Even the tones of the guitar drones are forever changing. Tracks are more structured too. Stark but effective in its simplicity is 'Father of the Frosts' where lumbering bass notes are surrounded by heavy distorted chords. Cymbals crash and controlled feedback drones are added bowing out on a series of gongs. This is TenHornedBeast at their most skeletal.
Previous TenHornedBeast releases by their nature have been pretty bleak affairs - and that's an observation not a criticism - but Hunts & Wars is far more structured in terms of composition and flow. The inclusion of short musical interludes is highly effective offering Christopher Walton the opportunity to step away from the inherent malevolence to produce tracks much lighter in tone. On 'Hilnaric' the twittering of birds is set against a brooding soundscape. It carries a heavy sense of anticipation; a foreboding atmosphere that draws images of a desolate battlefield where something is afoot. It makes me think of the pastoral fields of Michael Reeves' quintessentially English horror movie Witchfinder General; of an English countryside charged with an impending evil. 'Ironborn' is more martial; a muffled fanfare of horns and percussion that sounds like an army of soldiers beating their shields. With its lulling melodic keys unfolding gently over aching drones 'Cimmeria' is the tenderest of tracks to emanate from the claws of the TenHornedBeast. Like much of Hunts & Wars it takes its inspiration from Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, to whom the album is dedicated.
Hunts & Wars closes with the epic title track where washes of atmospheric guitar drone are wrapped around a low loping bass shudder. Gaining in power and volume this twenty minute piece rises and falls with the sound of a gong being struck. Drones veer from layers of blackened noise to a golden shimmer eventually dissipating entirely as the entire piece slips into a short slumber. Reawakened 'Hunts & Wars' then closes with a renewed vigour.
Hunts & Wars goes way beyond dark ambient, its shorter interludes add shading to the pitch-black atmospherics. It remains resolutely a product of the TenHornedBeast. The structure created from percussion and low-end bass could easily attract doom-drone listeners. Three albums in and they've carved a niche of their own and Hunts & Wars is yet another stunning release from TenHornedBeast.