It feels inappropriate to categorize anything in the death metal world as “darling”, but if there is such a group of musicians and songwriters that fit that colloquial moniker it would have to be Horrendous. With coverage and praise in heaps coming from mainstream music publications as well as the metal underground, the Philadelphia death metal band has engendered a significant amount of goodwill throughout their nearly decade-long existence. With three full-length records under the belt, we can now claim these once-upstarts as full-blown veterans of the scene, and with such status comes a differing set of expectations. Thus, their latest release, Idol, may be the most pivotal record yet in Horrendous’ discography when it comes to cementing their legacy.
While 2015’s Anareta was widely acclaimed in critical circles, it didn’t sit well with some among the death metal faithful. The band’s previous recordings, The Chills and Ecdysis, enchanted death metal fans with a take on OSDM that worshipped its sources while abstaining from pretension or simple imitation (think Gruesome for the latter category). Ecdysis, in particular, saw the band evolve their sound gradually into something more expansive, but more than either of those records their third full-length brought out a progressive and increasingly melodic complexion to the band’s songwriting, resulting in slower tempos and more complex arrangements than the band had written before. This decision to expand their sound was met with both praise and derision from Horrendous and OSDM devotees, causing something of a divide regarding the band’s discography. This context is important because Idol follows firmly in the footsteps of its predecessor in generating a cluster of expansive, progressive-leaning arrangements, heralding to all that the Horrendous of Anerata is here to stay. Rejoice or despair as you see fit.
As has always been the case with Horrendous, the riffs surge forth in an overwhelming abundance on Idol. After a brief introduction, the album proper kicks off with “Soothsayer”, which wastes no time whatsoever burying listeners in a landslide of tasty riffs. Matt Knox and Damian Herring’s guitar work is pristine, gliding from passage to passage with the expert precision of musicians who’ve found their collaborative sweet spot. The progressive, Death-style songwriting that made Anareta a contentious record appears even more prominently throughout this track and the remainder of the record. “The Idolater” slowly unfurls in a manner opposite to its preceding composition, wandering amiably through a sequence of bass noodling and gentle guitar plucking. Of course, it eventually erupts into a chug and solo-filled death-fest, but such mid-tempo flourishes are a staple throughout the record, and here add a unique charm.
For all their progressive leanings, Horrendous still know how to rock. “Golgothan Tongues” is a start-to-finish banger, allowing Herring’s wretched vocals to shines in the mix in a manner that adds further viciousness to the track. “Devotion (Blood for Ink)” follows a similar trajectory, tearing through its six-minute runtime with all the ferocity one demands of quality OSDM. It also includes a delightful section of clean vocals, which add a great deal of texture to an already complex composition. And while “Divine Anhedonia” opens with another languid musical section, it feels ridiculously heavy regardless of the speed in which it unfolds. There’s a rich variety of speeds, sounds, and riffs here. Enough, perhaps, to satisfy the Horrendous lover and skeptic alike.
This variety, while thoroughly pleasing to my ears, is also a potential issue with the record. There is an abundance of good riffs here, but some seem to come and go too quickly. Finale “Obolus” perhaps suffers the most from this, converting at times into riff spaghetti. This was an issue I had with certain portions of Anareta, but given this record’s unabashed progressivism from note one, it’s less of a shock to the system on Idol than it was there. Horrendous make their intentions clear early on, thus helping these rapid-fire riff changes feel more cohesive in the context of the record as a whole. As eluded to previously, those looking for a return to The Chills or Ecdysis will be left disappointed. But if the logical evolution of Anareta is what you’re craving, prepare for a veritable feast.
There’s very little wrong with Idol. The songs are engaging and hard-hitting throughout, the performances are fantastic, and the production is close to perfect for this brand of death metal. It’s the album that fans of Anareta were most certainly hoping for, and on that measurement meets all expectations. Idol will do little to quell the critical fervor surrounding this band, and thankfully, the adulation is here justified. An excellent release.
Idol will be released September 28th through Season of Mist Records and is available for pre-order in physical and digital formats on the band’s Bandcamp page.