Album Review: Judge Bitch – Horse Blood

Judge Bitch is back. Those who remember the bland and repetitive two albums from the artist’s past discography may find it hard to care about that fact, and they’d be right not to. Just as previous releases were half-baked synthwave mud pies, so too is Horse Blood a collection of misshapen, dull, and frequently ugly tracks barely held together by lifeless melodies, flat audio production, and ill-fated attempts at incorporating electric guitar.

The album’s best efforts come early on “Back Drop Driver” and “Trash Pandas,” which are mildly enjoyable pieces of rock-flavored synthwave (no, this isn’t darksynth) that manage to hold the listener’s attention in spite of some predictable songwriting choices and regrettably grainy audio production. However, even those tracks’ best moments are quickly forgotten beneath the ugly guitar work.

The relationship between synthwave and electric guitar has grown increasingly prevalent in recent years, and although hundreds of albums now feature the combination, the number of artists who have successfully pulled it off is not even in double digits. Judge Bitch is not among those artists, and the murky, static-cling sound of the guitar on “Back Drop Driver” is delivered with glaringly low technical execution during both rhythm and lead sections. The absence of technical chops is even more apparent on “Trash Pandas,” which closes out with one of the weakest guitar solos to appear on any synthwave record to date, jogging its way to the song’s conclusion with a barely competent effort that feels more like accidental tearing than actual shredding.

It won’t be the last time Judge Bitch subjects listeners to the dismal guitar work either. Each of the next two entries, “Burner” and “Animal Weapons,” is burdened by it, yet unlike the first two songs, their underlying structures are so shallow and tedious that they can’t even begin to redeem them from the horrendous string work. “Burner” in particular is a disposable chunk of uninspired synthwave that is worth skipping well before the guitar has a chance to fully spread its stain.

Each of these two songs closes out on an ear-piercing guitar solo that sounds like a teenager with his first axe trying to follow along with his favorite metal band, buzzing frets, botching bends, and skipping notes altogether in the process. Even worse, the underlying music turns to mud during the solo sections, with the generic songwriting and hollow production churning out gray and featureless matter beneath the crude guitar work. Not since Carpenter Brut’s Leather Teeth has the inclusion of electric guitar in synth music been this painful to listen to.

Those who survive the early tracks will be confronted with a vocal effort on “Vandal” that somehow manages to be every bit as offensive as the guitar solos. The relentless shouting and ‘90s-style alternative rock instrumentation would be at least listenable if it was supported by any level of technical merit, though it once again it feels like it belongs more to a garage band than a professional synthwave artist, and it’s not worth sticking with the music for more than 30 seconds.

Listeners could power through the rest of the recording if they really wanted to, but anyone who’s heard more than a dozen synthwave albums at this point will be keenly aware that Horse Blood is not a good one, and unsurprisingly, no part of the recording’s back half does anything to change that.

The title track (featuring Perturbator) and “Patriot” both deliver paper thin audio production across compositions that sound like they were written while sleepwalking, and “Command” closes out the album with one of the worst synthwave songs ever produced. It would be excessively generous to call “Command” a filler track, though it does reward listeners’ attempts to experience the full recording by filling their ear holes with audio excrement.

Judge Bitch’s first two albums weren’t good, but they at least had the benefit of being released when synthwave was still a small and relatively fresh genre, making their slightly dark, mechanical edge worth hearing at least once. In 2018, Horse Blood isn’t even worth the time it takes to listen to the entire album. There are literally hundreds of better synthwave releases in the world, and each track on Horse Blood is one more drop in the ocean of valueless synthwave being squeezed out this year. Skip it and never look back.

Rating: 22 / 100 (Terrible)

Songwriting: 3
Execution: 2
Production: 3
Song Variety: 4
Consistency: 1
Memorability: 0
(Click here for a full explanation of the grading scale.)

The Album: BandcampAmazon

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