Sometimes it’s all in a name. As Mark Z. accurately observed in his recent Soulskinner review, certain names can be almost conclusively attributed to a particular style of metal. I came across a similar scenario with Horrid, a name that immediately screams death metal devotion. What proved more surprising as I delved into the band’s background is that in one form or another the Italian veterans have been active since 1989. Basically they were old school before being old school became cool again. However, despite their long history, aside from a bunch of EPs and demos, Horrid didn’t release their debut LP until 2002’s Reborn In Sin. Fast forward to 2017 and Horrid return with their fifth full-length platter of straightforward death, Beyond the Dark Border. Firstly the band’s dedication to the death metal cause is admirable over such a long tenure, and this being my first occasion experiencing Horrid’s grim old school death, I was treated to an unpretentious, grizzled assault inspiring warm feelings of nostalgia.
The simplicity and straightforward nature of Horrid’s music actually works to the band’s advantage. After all they weren’t born for innovation or any fancy fret-board moves. Rather, Beyond the Dark Border rumbles and brawls with a brutish lack of respect for modern trends and technical shenanigans, instead leaning on the band’s own storied past and deathly glory days of the Floridian scene. In particular, Deicide and Obituary, to go with the decaying stench of the classic Stockholm death metal scene. Hardly original stuff, but Horrid were birthed during the early death metal explosion and obviously these now old school influences have firmly manifested themselves in the band’s slightly upgraded modern interpretation. But the lack of originality doesn’t translate to half-arsed or sloppy performances and the band trundle along like a very old and mildly reconditioned machine. The rugged no-frills aesthetic and chug-a-long grooves of solid opener “The Black March” attests to this. There’s a strong focus on mid-paced tempos, with enough rabid flourishes of speed to act as a foil and stave off rhythmic monotony.
Overall, there’s little in the way of particularly compelling material or surprises to be had, but for some, Horrid’s authentic old school sound, bruising attack and solid supply of spine snapping grooves may just be enough to leave an impression. Personally, despite the solid meat and potatoes execution, fiery aggression and exuberance displayed, there’s a tad too much flab and unremarkable songwriting to lock in my full engagement. At 50 minutes, length isn’t a deal breaker, but in Horrid’s case more prudent trimming of the fatty off-cuts would’ve increased the overall impact significantly, as several songs are guilty of overstaying their welcome. Bassist/vocalist Dagon possesses a solidly stock standard vocal that could benefit from more variation and distinction, while the guitar work of founding member Belfagor gets the job done adequately, sliding between hammering buzzsaw riffs, blazing tremolos and creepy B-grade horror leads.
Highlights include the meaty bludgeon and potent dynamic shifts of “Blood Painted Walls” and chunky groove of “Demonic Challenge,” while the gnarly Swedeath escapades of “Sacrilegious Fornication” is unfortunately diminished somewhat by a monotonous and repetitive back half. Production-wise, the recording is loud and the mix a tad unbalanced, but otherwise serves the purpose well enough, offering a heavy, slightly dirtied guitar tone and punchy drums, presenting a modern but rough around the edges sonic palette for the band to launch their offensive.
Still, for all my lingering doubts about the staying power of Beyond the Dark Border, it’s certainly not the dullest old school death experience I’ve endured, and the occasional inspired riff, surly groove or graveyard melody briefly satiates that old school craving. Hats off to Horrid’s stubborn attitude and marathon contribution to the death metal scene. But when there are finer retro exponents and veterans still delivering the goods, Horrid’s workmanlike but unremarkable platter of death only warrants a passing glance and not a fully endorsed recommendation.