Dungeon masters

Six Dead Horses
; Horn Tusk Antler
; (self-released)

Although Orlando's Six Dead Horses formed four years ago, it wasn't until the last couple of years that the sludge metal band has truly taken flight. After crystallizing into the steady lineup of guitarist-vocalists Scott White and John Bonser, drummer John Duvoisin and bassist Joel Stanley, they have risen like a thunderhead to become one of the city's deadliest heavy groups and the go-to support act for many of the elite touring metal acts that come through, including Eyehategod, Black Tusk, Zoroaster, Minsk, Dark Castle and Coliseum.

Now SDH finally emerge with their debut record and, as a tangible package, it's remarkably conceived and executed. Although done all by hand (specifically, Joel Stanley's), this packaging ain't no faux-hemian arts and crafts project. From the artistic outer wrapping – which is heavy stock, silk-screened and folded – to the enclosed vellum inserts, stickers and canvas patch just screaming for your denim vest, this tastefully furnished product is as luxe as it is personal.

Belying the elegant exterior, however, the disc inside is total sonic destruction. Technically, it's a three-track EP but collectively clocking in at nearly 35 minutes, these aren't so much songs as they are epic odysseys across scorched lands and permanent nights lit only by slo-mo hellfire. Musically, their crushingly classic combination of stoner, doom and sludge is the quintessence of rage and viscosity. The foreboding lyrics are carved with all manner of apocalyptic and mythological imagery – fire, blood, dragons, kingdoms. It's the kind of appropriately dark and involved lore that rightfully holds generation after generation of grown, bearded men in the smoked-out grip of adolescence. The liner notes seriously read: "Inspiration: Wizards and Pot." Enough said.

After a full opening minute of lingering, ominous guitars, the annihilation begins on lead track "Lakota" with a cavalry of boulder-rolling riffs and toxic Southern grooves that eventually yield to a death march stabbed by a couple of thrashing passages. "Human Dragon, Father of Man" pairs the half-speed bludgeoning of sludge doom with hairy mountaintop howls. In the middle, the album kicks into a driving charge with some flashy, flame-throwing rock licks and then settles back into its deep, tarry groove again. "Brutalitarian" closes the record with a bloodlusting war cry that rides hard on wide-swinging riffs that fly past like the sweeps of a battle axe.

Together, the movements constitute a monolith that's the work of a band truly coming into its own. Smaller self-released recordings often fall conspicuously short of encapsulating the full force of bands with strong live reputations like this. Horn Tusk Antler, however, captures Six Dead Horses' considerable live power and then some. This active, scene-building group runs with a talent-rich Florida crowd that includes luminaries like Junior Bruce and Dark Castle, but this towering record is virile enough to prove they are one of the area's top metal contenders.

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