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The members of Sons of Pale Horse depicted on the album, The Book of Rorschach; clockwise from top left: Chris Deschaines, Mike Ennis, Gene Casablancas, and Dao X.

Sons of Pale Horse were an American space rock band consisting of Chris Deschaines, Mike Ennis, Dao X, and Gene Casablancas. They are named after the popular death metal group that perished during the Dimensional Incursion Event in 1985.[1][2]

History

Formation 

Chris Deschaines and Mike Ennis were childhood best friends who both grew up near Green River outside of Seattle, Washington. Deschaines was thirteen when Doctor Manhattan fled to Mars, which disappointed his father who was part of a cult that believed that Manhattan was a messianic ubermench. His father's declining sanity as well as his mother's death from leukemia caused Deschaines to become rebellious in his youth. He eventually found solace through his discovery of alternative rock groups such as Jane's Addiction and The Nine Inch Nails in 1989 that compelled him to become a musician. The first song that Deschaines and Ennis attempted to learn was "Julio Iglesias" by Butthole Surfers.

In 1991, Chris's father was running a Burgers 'N' Borscht pop-up near the campus of Microsoft. When the company collapsed, he relocated to Boeing Field with the help of Mike's father where they witnessed several space launches. Prodded by their fathers, Chris and Mike began performing for the spaceport crowds and called themselves Space Junk. They mostly performed covers of songs by Devo and David Bowie. When they started money, Mike's father started taking half of what they were making and Chris complained to his father about this, he told him to forget about it. Both disgusted by their fathers, the boys decided to run away seeing it as the best option moving forward.[2]

Meanwhile in Palo Alto, Dao X and Gene Casablancas became close friends after meeting each other in John Cage's music class during their time at Millennium Polytechnic Academy. Their first hang out was at Lollapalooza '91. Following the music festival, they began writing their own music, but could never focus on just one style of music. When X's mother, an political activist for Vietnamese independence, disappeared for reasons unknown, Gene's parents took him. After graduating high school they decided to attend Sundance Labs in Los Angeles and hoped to be the next Pink Floyd.

Chris and Mike were living in Venice, California, and found work delivering newspapers and working clerk jobs at Hi De Ho Comics. At night, they performed music gigs for no money. Their set included a suite of hardcore fragments inspired by the cut-up techniques of William S. Burroughs and Max Shea. X and Gene were both present when Chris and Mike performed at the Jabberjaw in Los Angles. After getting booed off stage, they followed them backstage to express their love for their music.

They bonded that night over take-out from Gunga Diner and Stephen Spielberg's Pale Horse. While watching Pale Horse one night, they booed at the scene where the film attempts to explain why the alien monster appeared in New York City. Under the influence, they exclaimed that the film was insult to the memory of Pale Horse, the death metal band the film was named after, and decided to band together to form the Sons of Pale Horse. Moments after their declaration, squids began raining down from the sky; they saw this as an omen.

Underground Media and Sirens of Saturn

Gene Casablancas and Dao X continued to study at Sundance Labs, so that the band can use the rehearsal spaces to fine tune their electronic style of space rock. Meanwhile, Mike started finding his true passions through underground and "sub-pop" media. While competing in Doom tournaments, he won thousands of dollars while making valuable connections. In 1995, Sons of Pale Horse produced the score for iD's Quake, a black market sensation. They also produced the sound effects for Quentin Tarantino's unlicensed and unreleased film Star Trek. They tried developing a bigger following by playing on pirate TV stations and even offered bootleg recordings, but found no takers for their demo, Sirens of Saturn.

Sirens of Saturn is seventy minutes of lo-fi progressive rock included in just three pieces: a remastered version of Hooded Basilisk Suite featuring messy speed guitar picking from X and wild haphazard beats from Gene, "Good Men Like My Father", and "Aoxomoxoa Now" (later "No One Cares But Me").

The Book of Rorschach cover art

The Book of Rorschach

Although their music career was short-lived, Sons of Pale Horse's debut album The Book of Rorschach, based on Rorschach's journal, remains a controversial cult classic. The album is regarded as a travesty by mainstream critics, who criticized that it full of “regressive edginess.” Regardless, the record sold four million units sold thanks to the ubiquity of one radio smash, "Moloch (I Fought the Law)," a retro-weird earworm that infected everyone from nu-metal kids enthralled by the middle-finger-flying lyrics to Boomers tickled by its ample sampling of the old Sonny Curtis tune popularized by the Clash. Despite this, the band shut down production because they felt it was misunderstood. The Book of Rorschach record was believed to regard Rorschach as a cult hero and became a rallying cry for the fanatics who already believed it. According to Nova Express, the album romanticized, “lone nut archetypes, enlightened madmen cliches, and a manifold of toxic pathologies.”

Sons of Pale Horse's final show at the Greek Theatre.

When Sons of Pale Horse showed up for their first, and only, concert in Los Angeles on December 1st, 2000 as part of their Fearful Symmetry Tour for the album. The crowd was described as mostly, “dude bros in Rorschach masks looking to mosh each other bloody,” according to one band member. Infuriated, the band walked off stage and never came back. The band wanted to poke fun at the idea of Rorschach but wound up valorizing him instead.

The Book of Rorschach was re-released on November 4th, 2019, two days after the Dimensional Incursion Event's 34th anniversary. The re-release serves as part of Charlton Home Records' “Cancel Culture Classics” series.

The re-release features some of Rorschach's ramblings both sides of the disc. The first side reads "Regret nothing. Lived life free from compromise...and step into the shadow. Now without complaint". On the other side: "This relentless world / there is only one sane response to it." Each side of the album reflects Rorschach's mask. As cultural historian Seymour David notes in the essay that accompanies the new Charlton Home Records re-release of The Book of Rorschach, the people most surprised and dismayed by the album's success and controversy were Sons of Pale Horse themselves.

The album is known to be popular with two types of vigilante profiles on the Wertham Spectrum, the rare Objectivist/Messianic and the increasingly common Paramilitary/Nihilist. The album seems to be very popular with members of the far right terrorist group, Seventh Kavalry. FBI field reports from Tulsa have indicated that original editions of The Book of Rorschach were discovered in 7K homes during the police raids that followed the “White Night” in 2016.

According to the band, The Book of Rorschach was also never meant to be viewed or heard as a valentine to an iconic sociopath, despite cover art that turned the nightmare imagery associated with the vigilante — butterfly blots, dead dogs carcasses, blood splash — into abstract art and glamour shots of the band wearing abstractions of Kovacs' mask. Implicit in the intention, according to David, was to question hero worship of all sorts, particularly toxic misfits who offer corrupting wish-fulfillment. For chief songwriter Chris Deschaines, the album was an allegory about his recovery from drug addiction and identity crisis (for a spell, the addled obsessive actually thought he was Rorschach), and for the band, it was a celebration of their friend's hard-won victory over his demons. When they saw the music being misunderstood, they tried to clarify their intentions, and when their crisis PR only made the record more popular, Deschaines vanished into obscurity, never to be seen again despite the best efforts of tabloid moths and cultish fans turned amateur sleuths.[2]

Trivia

  • To serve the meta narrative of Watchmen, the Nine Inch Nail online store made the Sons of Pale Horse T-shirt unavailable until Sons of Pale Horse's trademark dispute with Charlton Home Records over merchandising rights is settled.[3]

References

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