Reviewed: January 2019
Released: 2018, Season of Mist Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
As was the case with their last album, 2015’s Anareta, the latest outing from Philly-area death metallers Horrendous has figured prominently on a number of year-end Top 10 lists, accompanied by accolades aplenty. And while I can’t confess to being quite so enthusiastic about either album, it’s easy to see – or rather hear – what makes the Horrendous so appealing.
The band’s mix of death metal grit, progressive athleticism and thrash verve is undeniably invigorating while at the same time offering the sort of depth that often eludes straight up death or thrash metal. And while the ingredients don’t always quite gel, at least IMHO – Damian Herring’s shouty, phlegmatic vocals make for an uneven contrast to the finesse of the music, and the occasional clean vocal passages sound rather awkward – the Horrendous clamor definitely catches the ear and makes one sit up and take notice.
Idol, the band’s fourth full length, is their most intricate and technically adept album yet. It continues to build on the foundation that Horrendous hinted at with their 2012 debut The Chills but really cemented with 2014’s Ecdysis, as they shed traditional old-school death metal sentimentality for something more expressive and involved.
The fluid, surprisingly sleek Idol hints of the latter day progressive flair of Death, Cynic and Atheist – or modern era Obscura – mixed with the expansive sprawl of Gorguts and the occasional loopiness of Voivod, notably in the shimmery guitar accents on “Golgothan Tongues” and the quirky finale to “Divine Anhedonia.” Constantly shape-shifting riffs and sweeping harmonies overlay the turbulent drumming of Jamie Knox and the supple, elastic handiwork of newish bassist Alex Kulick making for some of the most sophisticated and monumental metal around.
And despite the album’s somewhat understated production and the band’s sometimes soothing, almost jazz-like delivery, the sporadic fits of jarring brutality – as on the breakneck passages punctuating “Soothsayer,” “The Idolater,” “Devotion (Blood For Ink)” and “Divine Anhedonia” – will keep you on your toes. A bit more of that sort of thing, however, would have been welcome, as some of the tunes here have a tendency to meander.
Oddly enough, the longest track, the 8:38 closer “Obolus,” offers the most even balance of dexterity, subtlety and intensity and allows the band to finish the album with a flourish. But it’s perhaps Idol’s lone genuinely standout tune top to bottom. The other songs all boast admirable pieces and parts, but given their elliptical nature and free-form construction there isn’t a whole lot of “songiness” to go around, which is something that could have been remedied easily enough with a few modest hooks and a chorus or two.