Asian Chairshot’s 2013 mini-album, Mask, is among the most emotionally bold albums I know of. I am continually blown away by how powerful and gutsy their sound is, and have yet to hear a rock album that matches Mask’s emotional density. The band has a lot to offer, and have already established a very recognizable style consisting of a lot of screaming, eruptive melodies, allusions to Korean traditional music, and grungy, psychedelic arrangements.
I’ll go out and say that Horizon doesn’t completely fulfill my expectations when compared to Mask. It lacks the same gripping musical narratives as the group’s first album and is much more compositionally straightforward. But in comparison to any other rock album, it’s certainly above average, and I’d still name it as one of the top albums of the year.
It opens strongly with “해야,” which comes at full force with a pushing melody and bold guitars. Throughout the album, there is a solid dose of badass guitar solos — even more so than in Mask. The first of these can be found in “해야”s midsection and more so in the second track, “뱃노래,” which is wonderfully high-octane. The quality falters a little bit with an overly mellow track, “밤비,” which has its own charm but is underwhelming coming from Asian Chairshot.
One of my favorites is “어떡할까.” It’s sassy and grungy, with an old-school Shin Joong Hyun-esque feel. Hwa Yeong Won wears the melody with utmost confidence, making you want to sing along and live the line with him.
“자장가” is one of the more experimental songs on the album — a breath of fresh air, considering that this album is more straightforward than Asian Chairshot’s first album. The echoing, alternating guitar chords at the beginning drive your ears crazy (in a good way) until bass comes in and smooths everything out. The melody is loose and cool, until Yeong Won lets out his signature cathartic screams at the three minute mark.
Yeong Won bares his heart in “해를 거르고” with a turbulent melody and some bold harmonies underneath. It’s an intense song to get through; it’s sort of like a raw emotional release with little intent on pleasing its audience. The next track, “화석,” is mixed for me. The verses are too predictable and straightforward. But once the chorus melody hits, which is triumphant and elegant, and I enjoy every second of it.
One issue becomes apparent throughout the album particularly with “해를 거르고” and “화석”: the balance between the vocal lines and accompaniment isn’t superb, preventing Yeong Won’s melodies from really projecting. He sounds like he’s forcing his voice over the guitars in some spots. In some respects this is a cool effect, but generally, I think the music would be benefited if I could hear the vocal melodies more clearly.
“날 좀 보소” is sort of a throwback to Asian Chairshot’s first album style, with the psychedelic guitar colors and the careful, slowly progressing melody. It has doses of traditional Korean music and even some Middle Eastern harmonies. I do wish the melody were a bit tighter and offered more harmonic tension. The closing track, “Sun Down,” is gripping, and I’d love to see Asian Chairshot use this style more. It’s experimental, flavorful, and more atmosphere-driven than their usual melody-driven style.
Overall, Horizon didn’t blow my mind the same way that Mask did — but it’s still undeniably good. There are several glimpses of brilliance, and the group continues to bring forth a sound that is powerful and distinct. Asian Chairshot rock their badass guitar lines, cathartic screams, and grungy arrangements with contagious confidence throughout the album, and I look forward to seeing them developing this sound.