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Stian Westerhus & Pale Horses: Maelstrom

Album Review

The remarkable Norwegian guitarist steps up to the mic.

It’s a cliché but it’s true here: with Norway’s Stian Westerhus, you can expect the unexpected. Nothing on the improvisatory dialogue between Westerhus and Sidsel Endersen’s Didymoi Dreams or the close-up solo explorations of The Matriarch prepares the listener for his latest outing. Teaming up with keyboardist Øystein Moen (Jaga Jazzist) and drummer/percussionist Erland Dahlen, Westerhus steps into the limelight as a lead singer.

His vocals sit somewhere between Thom Yorke and The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan. It suits the fraught, angst-driven sound emanating from the Pale Horses project and its prog-inspired vocabulary. 

It’s a suite of songs that generally avoid the usual verse/chorus traps by taking a more circuitous and sometimes occluded route, there are nevertheless times when Maelstrom’s tumultuous rolls spill and crash into something approximating stadium swagger. 

They generate a cavernous, My Bloody Valentine-style industrial thrum refracted through the widescreen prism of Simple Minds-type sonics, and it’s remarkably accessible. If you’ve not encountered Westerhus’ impassioned playing before you’ll find this isn’t a bad place to begin.

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