Stian Westerhus & Pale Horses: Maelstrom

The remarkable Norwegian guitarist steps up to the mic.

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It’s a cliché but it’s true here: with Norway’s Stian Westerhus, you can expect the unexpected. Nothing on the improvisatory dialogue between Westerhus and Sidsel Endersen’s Didymoi Dreams or the close-up solo explorations of The Matriarch prepares the listener for his latest outing. Teaming up with keyboardist Øystein Moen (Jaga Jazzist) and drummer/percussionist Erland Dahlen, Westerhus steps into the limelight as a lead singer.

His vocals sit somewhere between Thom Yorke and The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan. It suits the fraught, angst-driven sound emanating from the Pale Horses project and its prog-inspired vocabulary.

It’s a suite of songs that generally avoid the usual verse/chorus traps by taking a more circuitous and sometimes occluded route, there are nevertheless times when Maelstrom’s tumultuous rolls spill and crash into something approximating stadium swagger.

They generate a cavernous, My Bloody Valentine-style industrial thrum refracted through the widescreen prism of Simple Minds-type sonics, and it’s remarkably accessible. If you’ve not encountered Westerhus’ impassioned playing before you’ll find this isn’t a bad place to begin.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.