Newcastle (upon Tyne [UK]) based Horrified released their debut about a year and a half ago, and the AMG staff collectively shrugged. A throwback death metal record with some neat riffs and an authentic sound, it lacked in both originality and execution, and was summarily dismissed by yours truly. But wise old man of the AMG staff, Al Kikuras saw something in the band, a certain rough charm and attitude that’s missing in the majority of retro-death. If it wasn’t for Al’s sage words, I might have passed on reviewing Horrified’s follow-up, but his endorsement stuck with me and, combined with my soft spot for anything from England’s North East, convinced me to give the band a second chance.
Happily, Al is indeed wise—Of Despair is a huge improvement over their debut. Horrified are still peddling a similar OSDM sound, heavily influenced by Florida’s finest, especially early Death. But they’ve added several welcome new references that contribute to the musical diversity and depth of the songs. In particular they’ve added the kind of dissonant, and occasionally synth-backed sections pioneered by Pestilence, as well as some fantastic Dismember-style melodies and even the odd Peaceville Three doom/death passage. This new diversity, along with the generally improved riff quality, means Of Despair has no trouble holding your attention for the whole of its neat 45 minute run-time.
Not only do Horrified draw on a wider variety of influences, they have also found the confidence to experiment more as songwriters. Of Despair’s eight tracks are generally longer than those on the debut, with two breaking the eight minute mark. The first of these epics, “Funeral Pyres” appears half-way through the record and begins as a relatively run-of-the-mill death metal track before heading in more melodic directions. The song even strays away from pure death metal with some icy Dissection riffs. Passing through a frantic, dissonant mid-section, the final few minutes are some of the most melodic on the record, and would not be out of place on The Gallery or The Jester Race. It is much more successful as an epic than album closer “The Ruins that Remain,” which feels more repetitive and sluggish, though it features some nice Immortal riffing.
Part of this sluggishness comes from a slightly unstable drum performance. One of my major gripes with Horrified’s debut was the messy and unimaginative drumming, but I am delighted to say that, save for the anomaly on “The Ruins that Remain” and a couple of unfortunate moments at the start of the record, Matthew Henderson’s performance behind the kit is hugely improved both in time-keeping and invention. His loose feel adds to the record’s authentic old-school vibe rather than distracting as it did before, and he has obviously put a lot of thought into his patterns and fills, which add a little extra to the already strong riffs.
They’ve also nailed the production: the drums sound dynamic and natural, the guitars are sharp and Stockholmy, and with bass largely clear throughout. The addition of Pestilence-style textural synths (almost getting into Nocturnus territory on occasion) is welcome. The synths contribute some unsettling dissonance and depth to the sound, which, because of its old-school rawness, can be a little sparse and bass-light. The wide dynamic range is particularly welcome, allowing the natural dynamics of the songs to shine through (this was mastered by Damian Herring of Horrendous fame, and it shows).
Horrified should be very proud of Of Despair. They’ve gone way beyond my expectations and produced a record that, despite a couple of niggles, can compete with the best of today’s old-school death metal crop. Geet canny job, lads.