It is usually good practice to avoid describing a band solely by references to other bands, but sometimes it is inevitable. Night Horse has a sound that circulates amongst a series of hard rock precedents, from the opening blues riff à la ZZ Top, to the chorus that smacks of Mötorhead, to the second song’s guitar solo in the key of AC/DC, to Sam James Velde’s slice of Lemmy mixed with a touch of Chris Robinson (especially on the obligatory ballad, “Black Cloud”) and a pretension that leans towards Paul Rodgers. After listening and being reminded of all these previous bands, you are left wondering what exactly Night Horse adds to the equation.
Well, one possible answer would be: they mix all of these influences together into something new. Sure, you can go home and put on Tejas or Bomber or Back in Black—whatever—but could you put them all on at once? Then you realize, these bands are not all vastly different from one another. While they all do something individual—they are the progenitors of a style—there is a common denominator. Night Horse stays clearly in this middle, leading me to suppose that if you trace it to the root, hard rock has only a few faces (did I mention that sometimes Night Horse sounds like Faces too?) So you come to the conclusion, this “new” mixture of various hard rock bands just sounds like one more hard rock band pushed out onto the already humongous (and homogenous) pile.
Night Horse might as well be playing in a bar near you. Admittedly, the band is far better than many bar bands. As musicians, they’re well versed. They get all the notes right. They’ve got the solos down pat. But there is nothing edgy, nothing strange, and therefore nothing interesting happening here.
An anecdote about the band seems to be representative of Night Horse’s failure. Apparently, Lemmy met the band and gave it the name “The Mother Fucking Razorbacks.” But these guys went with Night Horse. Lemmy’s name would have given them a bit of edge just by itself. Instead, they opted with something typical and unmemorable—think about how many hard rock bands have “horse” or “night” in their names. The music follows suit.
One of the influences the band cites, being a dual-guitar band, is Thin Lizzy. This bent is evident, for example, in the chorus of “Shake Your Blues”, where Justin Maranga and Greg Buensuceso play something straight out of the Thin Lizzy songbook. But unfortunately, they fall short of doing anything innovative with the guitar interplay. It’s all clichéd references. Phil Lynott’s vision for Thin Lizzy was a revamp of the Yardbirds, hence the two guitars. His genius was to produce something totally different within a similar paradigm. Night Horse hasn’t figured out this next step.
What Night Horse does is a symptomatic problem with rock and roll across all genres, since rock and roll is really a form that is built on making references to what came before. Musicians get so enamored with a specific sound—their favorite band’s masterpiece, for example – that they think recreating it is the highest echelon of excellence. It’s a sweet tribute when a band pulls it off, but it isn’t particularly interesting for anyone but the band itself. This is what happens with the cover version. A band might love a song so much that it must play it. The choice of song is usually a clear revelation of influence. But only the rare band actually adds something new to the original song that makes its version worth listening to instead.
Perdition Hymns closes with a song called “Same Old Blues”. It is a typical hard rock album closer, a more rootsy contemplative ballad replete with barroom piano. The name of the song alone sums it up: same old. But it does an injustice to blues, which gives its limited artistic freedom in the form of interpreting a basic pattern. Night Horse has no individual spin in its interpretation. This is hard rock by numbers. It’s as if a bunch of session musicians, surely adept at playing music, decided to form a band themselves, but with no inspiration and no songs of their own. If the band has made any development since the first album, The Dark Won’t Hide You, it is only to have become more derivative within a different wing of the hard rock genre: Night Horse has amped up the Southern Rock aspect of its sound. You might get to thinking Lynyrd Skynyrd if you start naming antecedents while listening.
Some people will love this album. It reeks of beer and leather, as it should. If you want nondescript and inoffensive hard rock with a studied piety, Night Horse will do. Too bad Schwarzenegger isn’t making movies anymore because these guys would be perfect for the soundtrack. Of course, Schwarzenegger movies also used to have Guns N’ Roses songs playing in the background, and that was a hard rock band that actually did something with its influences.