Label: Vagrant Release date: 06/10/09 Website: HORSE the Band are the band that Enter Shikari and Attack Attack! wish they could be, except actually good. The original nintendocore band are big, bold and loud, take themselves way less seriously than bands twice as ridiculous as themselves, and they absolutely. Fucking. Destroy. Although HORSE’s albums have always been stuffed with killer breakdowns and chugging riffs, Desperate Living is perhaps their heaviest yet. This time, instead of indulging in metalcore clichés because they’re hilarious, they embrace the workings of the genre and master them, showing themselves to actually be one of the better bands the genre has to offer rather than an awesome novelty. Although their debut full-length, 2003’s R.Borlax is a fair bit more fun, this is their Jane Doe, their We Are The Romans, their hardcore masterwork. More restrained and delicate in the quietest moments, but when things really let loose, the band have never sounded more powerful. The talking point of the band has always been their videogame-influenced synth sound, which is astoundingly played entirely on a keyboard, rather than on a gameboy or laptop, as is the current trend. On Desperate Living, they are still as Mario-gone-violent as ever before, but this time are incorporated better, rather than being thrust out front and made a gimmick. They still join in the shredding solos and the pounding breakdowns, but they are also responsible for much of the record’s atmosphere and softer sides as well as it’s catchiest and most fun moments. The vocalist, as well, is quite a bit less over the top, singing more and breaking out the higher-pitched screams more infrequently. The improvement in the songwriting talents of the band from their early days is obvious and impressive. Take, for example, the dense and frantic intro of ‘Cloudwalker’ that gives away to booming drums and melodic guitars washed in fuzzy keys before bursting to 8-bit life once again, or the thumping beatdown outro of ‘HORSE the song’ that pairs chugging breaks with an 80s-influenced synth part. Then there’s the dancefloor freakout of ‘Rape Escape’ that slowly morphs in to a classical piano line backed by pounding drums. And finally, the epic outro of ‘Arrive’, complete with obligatory gang vocals. With many bands, you would likely call the result of such a progression their ‘most mature work’, but when it comes to HORSE the Band, the title ‘least immature work’ would perhaps be more apt. There are still the silly speech samples and song titles but they are framed by a band at the top of their game, and a band who have proved themselves to be far more than just a one trick pony (ho ho ho). Epicly huge and epicly fun, Desperate Living is the best hardcore album I’ve heard so far this year. If you have been following HORSE the Band for a while, you will be nothing but impressed with how far they have come, and if you’ve never heard them before, then saddle up and prepare for an amazing ride. Rating: 8/10 Number of Horse puns used: Only two, not bad. I could have done more.