The major testament to Horrendous‘ early ambitions comes with the realization that the year they whipped out their ‘Sweet Blasphemies’ (2009) demo it had well over four thousand independent death metal releases to compete with and still created notable buzz as a CD-r sold on their MySpace page. Why? A different take on the Swedeath buzzsaw and perhaps the most catchy set of traditional death metal songs they’ll ever write. Consider the jump from their demo to ‘The Chills’ (2012) as the difference between Nihilist and Entombed‘s ‘Clandestine’ as their Sunlight Studios influenced sound was doubly enormous but their songwriting had already taken a turn towards the melodrama of Edge of Sanity and gave brief glimpses of the unique guitar voicing that has been developed across the three full-lengths since. Horrendous‘ vision beyond 2012 is progressive in the most obvious sense as they’ve retrofitted ‘old school’ death metal esoterica with a new personal horizon consistently in sight; ‘Idol’ has the immediate, unquestionable presence of a leap forward in concept that rests comfortably in the wheelhouse of the classic death metal fan.
To have had an early breakthrough with ‘Ecdysis’ (2014) and used that momentum to immediately pour astonishing focus into ‘Anareta’ (2015) it was no small surprise to have a break in between Horrendous‘ next phase but holy hell, the three year wait felt like a lifetime of higher expectations had been brewing. This sabbatical wasn’t a matter of inspiration, or the need for a vacation, but rather a period of literal growth as the band came to employ bassist Alex Kulick (Mob Terror, ex-Midnite Hellion) in full collaboration, as well as sign a deal with Season of Mist. The hype surrounding ‘Anareta’ landed Horrendous in a position to realize their larger potential through the fruit-bearing colonnades of European tours, headlining spots and they’re achieving this with a primordially savage progressive death metal album.
Kulick‘s input might seem like a gamble to traditionalist death metal fandom but the risk of incorporation yields worthy rewards akin to Atheist‘s inclusion of Tony Choy on ‘Unquestionable Presence’ after Roger Patterson‘s tragic death. His tone is just a shade wobblier than Steve DiGiorgio on Death‘s ‘Human’ but doesn’t go full-on with the bonk of ‘Independent Thought Patterns’. To be fair these duties were admirably shared between guitarists Matt Knox and Damien Herring in the past but no doubt a fourth perspective enabled a greater elasticity in riding the boundaries of groove and complexity beyond previous records. In fact the combined aspirations and inspiration for this fourth dimension of Horrendous forms the overall theme of the record in literal composition and lyrical suggestion; To transcend the unnatural comfort and abject spiritual laziness of idolatry, ‘Idol’ appears as a solvent mirror for the dramatic and inevitable process of embolism in the artery of the ‘self’ when false idols are created and elevated in the minds of followers. This is tailor made to align with the spirit of Horrendous as an entity since their beginning as a set of college students who felt modern death metal could do bigger, better things.
To say that ‘Idol’ is bigger and better doesn’t do justice to the set goal of expansion with identity and integrity unshredded, it is successfully different and wildly performative with the intended fluidly chaotic grandeur acting as the over-arching musical statement; That is to say they’ve achieved dynamic storytelling without falling into progressive metal tropes nor soggy melodrama. With ‘Ecdysis’ Horrendous appeared with big-rocking dick riffs flinging wildly into the unknown and just shy of death ‘n roll, whereas ‘Anareta’ took those grooves to task in creating meaningful movements within an Anata-level of moody-yet-precise technicality; ‘Idol’ brings a gloriously excessive layer of late 70’s progressive rock ‘ebb-and-flow’ to create Crimsonian drama that still fits within the 90’s progressive death metal umbrella. The extruded remains of this process offer a balance previously unachieved within prog-death as the lack of traditional barreling death metal riffs is eased with what I’d consider heaving dose of modern technical thrash metal guitar work. While I would concede the correlation with early Atheist on that remark, “Devotion (Blood For Ink)” is far outside the R.A.V.A.G.E. (or early Cynic) songwriting sessions’ scope of practicum. Horrendous reach far and wide for structural elements but thrillingly retain the creative ‘self’ heard back in 2009.
For all of the endless blathering I could do about the consistent value of Horrendous musical career, none of this is an enormous surprise to the dedicated fan. The level of refinement will be logical and the new bass presence is just understated enough that the less detail oriented listener might assume they had a bass player previous and he’d simply gotten better. The potentially shocking changes come seamless and immediate as if spoken, in the ancient death metal tongue, so convincingly that the experience feels natural. “Soothsayer” offers the first ‘clean’ vocal refrain in its choral apices and suddenly we’re mid-‘Focus’ with the intro to “The Idolater” that invokes Obliveon in riff and Cynic in atmosphere and flourish. From this point the extant spirit of ‘Anareta’ appears refined on what I consider the highlight and peak of ‘Idol’ with “Divine Anhedonia” and “Devotion (Blood For Ink)”. I believe “Obolus” will be the test of resolve for the less adventurous death metal listener as the soupy bass lines and bending riffs give way to the most pronounced ‘clean’ vocal sections of the album. In saving this revelation for last, “Obolus” acts as a final boundary pushing nudge and a truly grand finish. A minute more and ‘Idol’ would be over-stretched and ‘too much’ for my own tastes and this proverbial edging along the lines of progressive metal ends up being the most positive characteristic of this latest Horrendous journey.
‘Idol’ is an album of movement, less a shedding of skin but a newly concieved horizon to focus on as Horrendous become more capable of realizing their larger ambitions. The listening experience was never daunting or challenging, in fact ‘Idol’ achieves that sort of Morbus Chron-esque level of slippery spaced-quest without ever really ripping up any of the scaffolding they’d previously achieved. As with ‘Unquestionable Presence’ the flow of the record comes into view prior to the true level of technical wizardry driving it. If you are looking for progressive death metal’s tastefully sound future it almost seems sickening to consider any other release more viable than ‘Idol’ in 2018. I hesitate to descend too far into hyperbole because I don’t yet think Horrendous have resolved the question of staying power in terms of creating lasting melodic interest that could better define true progressive metal; This is the great white whale of inescapable ineptitude found in even the most ‘evolved’ prog-death projects and I believe something more memorable is achievable within this grand conception. Still, I cannot ask for more than to be left dreaming of things to come while well-satiated and in this state I can give ‘Idol’ a near-perfect rating and highest recommendation.
On a billowing dawn. 4.75/5.0
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