By using special keyboards that mimic the eight-bit sound of early Nintendo games, Horse the Band has built a career on combining retro NES sounds with the metallic thud of noise-rock. A Natural Death continues that tradition -- the liner notes even list the Gameboy as one of Erik Engstrom's three instruments -- but the arrival of replacement drummer Chris Prophet has also strengthened the band's metal tendencies. Prophet's drumming is feverishly precise, a flurry of crisp 16th notes and brain-jolting snare hits, and the band seems newly energized (and perhaps a bit more diligent, not unlike a classroom's reaction to a demanding new teacher) as a result. Lyrics that would normally incite laughter (e.g., "Don't feed the bears! Or the bears will feed on you!") are now more likely to incite moshpits, with frontman Nathan Winneke furthering the harsh atmosphere in a guttural, growling voice. It's impressive and often downright scary, which is likely the result this band is looking to generate.
Of course, the Nintendo influence is still there. Sandwiched between the band's hardcore riffage are those unforgettable sounds from the '80s, including the nostalgic "warping noise" that Mario used to make. The bizarrely titled "Sex Raptor" takes things a step further, adding a touch of Duran Duran to what could otherwise pass as a B-side from Megaman II. Keeping up with this game can be difficult -- at 16 tracks, it's a long album -- but A Natural Death is still oddly enjoyable, striking a balance between novel and novelty. If that doesn't float your boat, perhaps the joke's on you.