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The Hanged Man's Curse : Demo

If you share my belief that Westerns have a uniquely Doom quality all their own, then even this rough demo ought to strike a spark.

It's not all thrills, spills and wild excitement being a reviewing editor, you know. Sometimes, faced with a stack of uninspiringly 'been there, heard it before, got the T-shirt' submissions, the best that can be hoped for is to half-heartedly shuffle them around the desk wishing something would unexpectedly shatter the mood of cynical ennui by turning out to be radical and different...
...and some days that actually comes true.

Rather like this unassuming little package, which arrived unsolicited from across the Atlantic, postmarked San Marcos, TX. A mini-single lookalike CD-r in a cheap, stamped cardboard sleeve, accompanied by a bunch of stickers and some scaled-down flyers - to be fair, I didn't have particularly high hopes. At least, not until I stuck it in the stereo and the first bars of a riff Ennio Morricone would have killed for blasted out. Sure, it's a cheap demo: you can tell that immediately from the way the mix is skewed further than El Tuco's moral compass and the production's rougher than Clint Eastwood's stubble. The instruments and the vocals fight like a sackful of feral coyotes to be heard above each other, randomly bouncing off some distinctly different volume levels and compression ceilings, and replete with blunt, ugly transitions that sound like they were recorded in completely separate sessions and stuffed together regardless. As for the freebie live 'Scent Of Prey': well, frankly, that's got less polish on it than my thirty-year-old cowboy boots...

...and yet, for all that - something the brief band history freely admits was the result of a very low-cost and low-budget project (I'm guessing here that 'low' is a euphemism for, well, zero) - it's got a bucketload of swaggering charm and some of the catchiest earworm hooks I've heard for a long time. The hoarse, whiskey-fuelled, kinda-epic-sounding vocals absolutely drip with venomous emotion, the part-Babe Ruth, part-Fields Of The Nephilim melodies seethe with classic Western vibes, and the combination of the two makes the quarter-hour of music stomp along with a relentless charisma and panache. Is it Doom? - well, sure, in a spaghetti-Western-meets-Italian-dark-sound sort of way: it may go uptempo, but it's broadly sticking to those heavy Epic-Trad-Stoner aesthetics, with a bit of Gothic Rock bounce in the bass-heavy presentation. The live track, muted though it may be, even slings in a bit of a Death/Doom vibe for variety. There's plenty of atmosphere trying to escape the terrible production, too, with the vocal choruses, bells and guitarwork adding a dusty Sergio Leone feel to proceedings. Or, in their own words: "Of course we are the first and only Tex-Mex Western Death Doom Folk Thrash band".

I did ask the band about this release, and was informed it was "just their shitty demo". Which, in some senses, is correct - it is, by any objective standard, pretty sub-par in modern release terms. But it also for certain shows one helluva lot of potential and talent which I'm hoping will be realised in the forthcoming EP (planned for this year) and the posited full-length (to follow soon after). Given the clear financial and line-up hurdles that The Hanged Man's Curse have had to overcome since their formation in around 2011, if this is what they can do with basically nothing in the way of resources, I'm really interested in finding out what any kind of budget will bring to the table!

In the meanwhile, I do have to commend them, and main man Lobo Sangre, for hitting the spot with their source material. I've often wondered why Westerns don't get more of a look-in to the Doom scene, considering the genre foundations of hard life, difficult and costly moral choices, and sudden violent death. The Hanged Man's Curse conjure that ethos beautifully, reminding me in both name and deed of what I'd consider the greatest and doomiest Western of them all - 'Once Upon A Time in The West' - and that scene where Henry Fonda finally realises who Charles Bronson is, in a flashback just before death, as his nemesis catches up with him at long last...

Be that as it may, there's no getting around that it's still pretty firmly mired in that crappy sonic territory, and all the talent in the world can't entirely compensate for the grim listening quality. Or, indeed, the difficulty of actually tracking it down: it bears no obvious resemblance to what's available via Bandcamp, and despite some photos on Facebook, doesn't appear to be available other than perhaps at local gigs - or if you're in the happy position of being a reviewing editor! Anyway, I'm going to be a little generous in marking it much more for concept and content than presentation - as a demo, that is its purpose, after all - and add a (pale) rider that you might want to skip chasing the actual release down, sample what's on streaming offer, and wait for what comes next. Western Doom: it really ought to be a thing, and The Hanged Man's Curse are just the guys to deliver it.

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Reviewer's rating: 7.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Trails Without End
2. Say Goodbye, Amigo
3. Scent Of Prey (Live)

Duration : Approx. 15 minutes

Visit the The Hanged Man's Curse bandpage.

Reviewed on 2017-08-28 by Mike Liassides
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