Phoenix, Arizona's Horse Head is a doom/sludge metal group that many fans of the style have overlooked due to their unsigned and current underground status. The band initially started once Nataraja had called it a day, causing the trio of guitarist Wilson Hensleigh, drummer Andrew Parker, and bassist/vocalist Chris Gisriel to come together in 2011 for this brand new project. About a year after saw the release of their self-titled debut demo, but it wouldn't be until roughly three years pass that we get the follow-up EP, Missionary, another self-released venture. But does this new recording establish Horse Head as a band that will stand the test of time, or is it far from a memorable experience?

For as many doom metal ideas as there are presented on Missionary, this EP is a largely sludge filled world of crisp production values that compliment the thick, dirty sounding guitar distortions, rich bass presence, and solid drums. The vocals, for the most part, are reminiscent of the steady harsh rasp found on any The Agony Scene release, nicely complimenting the largely hostile performances. "Missionary" introduces this quite well with a venomous presence after a good minute long introduction. The music itself is actually quite infectious and could easily have fit a Red Fang effort if the vocals had been clean. Instead, that aggression adds a layer of enthusiasm that sends the cut spiraling into madness, giving way to infectious, almost aquatic in flow riffs approaching three minutes in. This one ends up heavily varied throughout, as if Eyehategod recorded during a sugar high, but the experience is still well paced from start to finish.

But, there in lies the main problem of Missionary. It's easy to understand what Horse Head is going for, but all the parts do often come to a head, leaving behind more of a mixed bag despite how well paced the music is. In fact, it's the more southern influenced tracks that work out the best, as the jumps aren't always as sporadic. "Whiskey and Blood" is more of a technical offering with traces of High on Fire and the like. Additional gutturals in the background add some extra much needed tension to the mixture of faster hostility and mid-paced grooves, the latter of which introducing more of a geographical flair that is further confirmed come the blues filled conclusion that builds up the band's doom metal backbone. And then there's "Red-Eyed Angel". This one takes its time, playing up a subtle mixture of the two styles, but not afraid to throw some post-metal leads into the mix here and there for a brief emotional toll.

While Horse Head tries to do a bit too much sometimes, the skill to create smooth flowing material is still there. Missionary takes the sludge metal style and tries to do something a little different with it by including some non-funeral grade doom metal elements, additional technicality, even by pushing the southern atmospheric tones to the point it sounds aquatic like most of the hooks on "Destroyer Television". With a little more fine tuning, it's clear that Horse Head will become a dominant force in the metal scene, one that would easily fit the the bill on Southern Lord Records, or even Relapse Records.

Review originally posted at Apoch's Metal Review.