Christian Moerlein Brewing Co., 7:15 PM
The Pale Horse arrived just in time. The debut LP by Lexington, KY quartet Ancient Warfare is an autumnal wonder, filled with crisp comfort and haunted harmonies. If there’s any single vibe they’ve managed to channel, it’s the spooked regret of Neil Young’s “Runnin’ Dry,” with ghostly fiddles and buzzing guitars plodding on, doomed, towards winter. Leader Echo Wilcox has an evocative alto worthy of the Patti Smith and Rosanne Cash comparisons, and it all comes together to make one of the strongest Americana records (and one of the strongest debuts in any genre) of 2015. Ancient Warfare makes the trek up I-75 frequently (this is their second Cincinnati appearance since the record dropped last month), so their mere presence at Midpoint is unremarkable, but the proximity to their album release and their prime slot kicking off the Moerlein stage should make for something special.
The Pale Horse hits many of the Americana touchpoints (fiddle, steel guitar, lyrics about Kentucky), but is unwilling to stay within those confines. In Wilcox’s words, it comes out as “south-gothic-grunge direction with textured fluid and dark psychedelia undertones.” There’s a heaviness that lingers from the band’s earlier live days (I walked away from a 2013 encounter at MOTR with the impression that they were a hard rock band), which manifests in Emily Hagihara’s driving drums of “Dreamcatcher.” Crackling distant-radio vocals strafe the background of “Darlin” and “The Last Living Trial,” and the former opens with a burbling reverse-tape effect.
Penultimate track “Rolling Tides” is the real focal point of The Pale Horse. “Hold on to the slumber, hold on to the thunder,” sings Wilcox, miked claustrophobically close, duetting with Rachael Yanarella’s beautiful violin lines. “Hold on to the summer, hold on to our weapons.” The song settles into a lengthy two-chord outro, distant shouts and melody lines diverging before suddenly crashing together into a rising wave in the final minute of the song. In its wake comes shuffling album closer “Wintertimes,” “Do you think that you’re free when I’m just out of reach?/Like the wintertimes, come and go.”
The music that makes up The Pale Horse has been in the works for as long as five years, and has yielded immeasurably satisfying results. Ancient Warfare is a bruising, powerful live band well-deserving of their prime slot on the outdoor stage. And if you miss them this time around, they’ll be back in just a few weeks as part of the awesome Ladyfest lineup in Northside and Brighton.