Trying to categorize Festival of the Horned God, the new EP by National Sunday Law, is difficult. The dirty guitars and gritty vocals suggest sludge, but settling on that would ignore all the other sounds that the band uses in their multi-layered compositions. The two members--Darin Tambascio and Derek Donley--are also in Graviton with Sacha Dunable of Intronaut, and if you're familiar with those bands, you may have a sense of the kind of genre-bending music made by National Sunday Law. Perhaps ambient progressive avant sludge garde covers it?
Even if some or all of those labels are off-putting, you should still listen to their new EP. It's sort of a mini-concept album about the horned god, who according to my research has been a feature in one form or another in many pagan religions for quite a while. In spite of generally being viewed as a positive presence, the horned god may have also served as the root of early Christianity's concept of a goat-like devil. The lyrics are more poetic than narrative, so if you're not particularly interested in pagan mythology, you certainly won't feel beaten over the head with it. Besides that, the lyrics are really just one thread of many.
As I mentioned, there are only two members in this band, but they make enough sound for at least a dozen people. The first track, "Theriocephalic" (which means a human body combined with an animal's head), starts out with tribal drumming, a buzzing guitar line, and what I can only describe as a menacing bass "presence." The song is heavy and churning, but underneath there's a mysterious-sounding keyboard line that slowly comes to the front of the mix as the song nears its end. The tone of it sounds like piano, chimes, and maybe even xylophone all blended together, and it serves as a gentle transition into the second track, "Antoillier" (which appears to be the Middle French word for "antlers"). "Antoillier" starts with foreboding acoustic guitar lines, eerie strings, and lilting woodwinds, but if this all sounds a bit too bucolic, don't worry: the horned god gets plenty angry about two minutes in. Afterwards, the song alternates between folky passages and full-bore sludgy riffs with roared commands to "rejoice this cursed beast."
Part of the difficulty in reviewing this EP is my desire to tease apart and catalog all of the different sounds and themes that weave through these songs. These are probably better experienced than described, so I'll cut myself off and leave the rest of them for you to discover yourself. If you'll indulge me, though, I will say that the third and final track, "Preservation in Stone," is a mini-epic with an outro that's so lovely that I want to create a pagan rite that consists of nothing other than listening to it on endless repeat.
National Sunday Law recorded a full length and an EP before this one (which are also available as pay-what-you-choose downloads on their Bandcamp), which were both recorded before the band went on hiatus in 2010. Both of those albums are very good, but Festival of the Horned God is on another level entirely. It's a phenomenal piece of work, and hopefully it's the start of a long, new chapter for this band.
[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]