Troubled Horse

Step Inside

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There are two sides to every story and in the case of Swedish retro-metal, Troubled Horse's 2012 debut, Step Inside, represents the flipside of the tale told by Witchcraft's comeback fourth LP, Legend, the same year. Actually, all things considered, the divorce between Witchcraft's Magnus Pelander and Troubled Horse's John Hoyles and Jens Henriksson was so remarkably free of animosity that both parties are still sharing custody of bass player Ola Henriksson -- how mature and civilized of them! But no amount of mutual goodwill can quell the need to compare the two resulting albums -- especially given the remarkable vocal similarities between Pelander and Troubled Horse's chosen vocalist/guitarist Martin Heppich. When he isn't duplicating Pelander's injured and warbling style almost too close for comfort across typical Troubled Horse fare like "Tainted Water" and the excellent "All Your Fears," Heppich sounds instead like Pelander's greatest inspiration: Pentagram's Bobby Liebling ("Sleep in Your Head," etc.). But all similarities aside, there's also no denying the new band's reduced doom-fueled melancholia and effective command of the modern-day, catchy and punchy, psychedelic hard rock template, which sees them jumping the backyard fence into vaguely Gaelic guitar lines on "Another Man's Name," and even breaking out a guest organist for "I've Been Losing," and others. Overall, one could say that Step Inside tends to boast a little more energy (especially striking on the stellar "One Step Closer to My Grave") than Witchcraft's career oeuvre, so it remains to be seen whether Troubled Horse can use this and other differentials to carve out a niche of their own in due time (and elevate their songwriting caliber a tad in the process, since the album decidedly flags as it wears on). But at least listeners will now have both sides of the Witchcraft divorce -- plus the titillating suspense as to which "parent" will get full custody of that bass player, in the end.

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