CD Review: Leatherhorn – Skull Worship

Leatherhorn’s debut CD, Skull Worship, comes packaged with actual dried pig intestines stretched around the case and a rusty razor—that you have to use to slice open said pig intestines in order to access the CD. These guys are not kidding around. And yet for all their unapologetically morbid, confrontational aesthetic ethos (for example: at a Halloween show a few years ago, guitarist Sean Jearns sprayed a vial of ACTUAL pig’s blood into the audience), Leatherhorn back it up in spades by being not only the best metal band in town, but also a legitimately trailblazing act. Their music draws from contemporary thrash and black metal but has no real peer (maybe short of niche European acts like Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord). Leatherhorn do not make it easy on their listeners. Their lengthy songs are complex, intricate mazes of dense, ominous riffage backed up by the untouchable drumming of Noah Burns (also of Dog Shredder) and filled out with blood-curdling howls (provided by Jeff Kastelic of FFA, Devilry, Kodiak, and nearly every other metal band worth a damn in Bellingham). Even when this band slows down, they do not let up. To provide some perspective: by the time opener “Remains” is only half over, the band has gone through nearly ten different riffs, all at varying tempos and evoking different senses of dread. “Divine” is anything but, alternating between Slayer-esque thrash and overwhelming waves of slow-burn punishment. At random, one can pick out lyrics such as “the final desolating abomination”—that is, when Kastelic’s remarkable register of growls doesn’t drop into an incomprehensible (in a good way) gut-churning death-metal rasp. The fact that near 10-minute closer “Death’s Dust” never gets dull or repeats itself is a testament to Leatherhorn’s abilities. Make no mistake, Skull Worship can be a dense, challenging listen. But though the inattentive layman not versed in metal may write it off as comical, those who dare face the beast and listen well will be richly rewarded: it is not only a dense, passionate, and powerful piece of craftsmanship, but it is the rare metal album that dares to be forward-thinking without sacrificing the classic qualities that make metal great.