I first encountered Chrome Hoof at NYC’s long-defunct Tonic in 2004, second on the bill between Sunburned Hand of the Man and headliners Sunn O))). I hated them; the morning after the show, I wrote, “Chrome Hoof sucked. They wore spangly hooded robes that looked lifted from an Arkestra yard sale, which was cool. The bass player occasionally wore a plastic ram’s head mask, which was cool. They had a bassoonist, which was really cool. But the music was total shit. They did two things: 1) heavy slow instrumentals that were very generic (Yob are better than them, never mind Boris, Khanate, Sunn O))), etc., etc., etc.) and disco-funk instrumentals that were horrible, like cruise-ship lounge-band horrible. So, fuck a bunch of Chrome Hoof.”
Well, they’ve improved quite a bit over the course of the last nine years, mostly by getting even weirder. They’re still bouncing back and forth between doom-derived metal/rock (bassist and founding member Leo Smee used to be in preeminent UK psychedelic retro doom act Cathedral) and pounding funk-soul-disco tracks with blow-the-walls-down vocals from Shingai Shoniwa, but they’ve added sizable doses of prog-rock to their sound. On their latest album, Chrome Black Gold (get it from Amazon MP3), strong elements of Yes and particularly Magma can be heard—there’s some tight guitar-and-organ jamming, but it quickly segues into 1980s-style electro-pop, with squelching bass and percolating keyboards. There are strings and horns as needed, too; the group has anywhere between 10 and 15 members, and its instrumental palette expands and contracts track by track. The lyrics have a futuristic cast, with dashes of humor and techno-hippie positivity, somewhere between Sun Ra and the KLF. The first song with vocals on Chrome Black Gold is a self-actualization anthem called “Knopheria” (say it out loud); it’s easy to imagine it being sung by RuPaul. Shoniwa’s not a generic soul diva, though—her voice has the crispness and theatricality of Siouxsie, with the imperious cruelty of Grace Jones. She’s not the only vocalist present, either; Jeff Walker of death metal pioneers Carcass shows up to hiss and growl on “Varkada Blues,” adding to the giddy eclecticism.
Chrome Hoof could only have come from England; they’ve got a strong taste for musical adventure, and pretty good instincts when it comes to super-gluing genres together on top of hard-driving (but played-by-humans) disco/house rhythms. Their talents—as players and arrangers—keep their songs taut and exciting, not sprawling and aimless the way, say, a jam band would be when attempting a similar everything-into-the-blender approach. Indeed, Chrome Black Gold packs 11 tracks into a concise 41 minutes. It’s the best of their three studio albums to date (they’ve also released a few EPs), and a good starting point as well. Get it from Amazon MP3.
Stream “When the Lightning Strikes” below: