Castillo Blanco Gets Hoarse with HORSE

09:32 April 03, 2017
By: Finn Turnbull

Remember hardcore music? Not hardcore punk like from the 80’s, but the screaming, chugging, breakdown-saturated music that was hugely popular almost a decade ago, now referred to as “metalcore.” It’s hard to forget. This music had an entire scene built around it. So much so that its regular patrons were referred to as “scene kids.” Scene kids brought on the explosion of skinny jeans and gauged earrings, along with putting too much effort into their myspace pages and half-heartedly clinging to the straight edge lifestyle of abstaining from drugs, sex, and alcohol. The Cypress, formerly The Highground, formerly Cypress Hall, was essentially Louisiana’s breeding ground for these kids.

One of the most unique groups to come out of the hardcore era, however, is HORSE the Band. HORSE is a quirky, spastic “nintendo-core” band from Lake Forest, California. The band was formed in 1998 by keyboard player Erik Engstrom and guitarist David Isen. They’ve referred to themselves as nintendo-core because of Erik’s use of 8-bit keyboard sounds that are massively reminiscent of vintage video game soundtracks. In fact, their most popular song is written about one of Megaman’s nemeses called Cutsman. This, paired with dynamic metal and frontman Nathan Winneke’s wacky stage presence makes for an interesting act to say the least. They released five studio albums as well as their famed Pizza EP, but sort of disappeared after 2009. However, they’re on a tour now and chose to pass through New Orleans.

Friday night was like stepping through a time warp at Castillo Blanco Art Studios. The bill was stacked with 5 bands including HORSE as the headliner. One of the opening acts was the local group Thrush. Thrush plays music similar to the other hardcore acts that played Friday night, however their music feels a bit more mature. Frontman Michael Karayane brings deep growls and yells to a dark wave of sound that is closer to post-metal groups such as Isis or Pelican. Bassist Alex Talbot provided additional vocals. The most unique aspect of Thrush, however, is guitarist Joey Cronvich’s inclusion of post-rock influenced riffs and tremolo picking. His licks were heavy with reverb and ambience, but were very bright and positive, contrasting with the foreboding nature of the band’s core sound.

At about midnight, the reason everyone was in attendance, HORSE the Band, took the stage with high spirits. Despite Nathan’s confession of being a bit tired and under the weather, they hadn’t lost a step. The first song they played was “Birdo” from their 2005 record, The Mechanical Hand. HORSE is an absolute thrill to watch. With such a great sense of humor and such an aggressive style of music, it’s nearly impossible not to be entertained. Fans were dusting off their hardcore dance moves, windmill kicking and flailing their arms about as though it were still one of their weekend rituals. The stage equipment at Castillo Blanco was having a hard time staying intact against the raging crowd. HORSE played all their hits such as “Lord Gold Throneroom” and “Murder”, but sadly nothing from the Pizza EP. Their final song was “Bunnies” from R. Borlax, and after the audience went hoarse from screaming “Smash those f***ing bunnies!” the band encored with their golden goose song, “Cutsman.” Appropriately, the song ends with a marvelous keyboard riff laced with just the right amount of nostalgia to weld itself into the minds of fans for days to come. 

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