Horned Almighty – To Fathom the Master’s Grand Design Review

orned Almighty - To Fathom the Master's Grand Design 01Despite my general distaste for any form of music that could have broad appeal, I’ve been known to enjoy a few rock bands. But they need to pass a pretty high bar: bring as much energy to the table as death metal does. Some do it with tension, like Chevelle or OSI. Some do it through sheer creativity, like Fair to Midland or The Mars Volta. Some, like Barren Womb or Truckfighters, just do it with swagger. That swagger is probably the easiest mark to hit, especially if you’re playing something punkish and distorted. It can also be extremely successful, considering that everyone reading this knows the name Motörhead. Swagger also works well mixed with black metal, as practiced by some of the later Darkthrone albums, which are the closest approximation I know for the sound of the album du jour: Horned Almighty’s To Fathom the Master’s Grand Design.

If you mopped up all the Darkthrone albums and wrung the juice out into a bucket, the grey slop collected would have the same general properties as To Fathom the Master’s Grand Design. Horned Almighty deliver their simplified black/death metal in a punky but neat package: “t”s crossed, “i”s dotted, Satans hailed. The band plays to their strengths with the first few songs, relying on speed to keep Grand Design’s momentum. “Violent Cosmology” and “Apocalyptic Wrath” keep up a good pace, even when the latter dips into what, in a different context, would be a pretty sick slam riff. It’s not until the back half of “Antagonism Eternal” that the band really drop tempo, but a beguilingly-accented voice-over keeps things just textured enough to not feel fatigued. “Devouring Armageddon” follows pretty much the same formula, and on the record’s B-side, the band sticks to songs that start fast and slow down to a groove for the bridge.

Adventurous compositions these are not, which means that Horned Almighty need to show off a lot of personality to make the record work. They don’t. The riffs are forgettable, the vocals are bland and monotonous, the drumming is exact and restrained. Even listening to the album’s most diverse song, “Swallowed By The Earth,” I don’t feel excited by new developments. The band never stops halfway through a song to drop a riff that demands that you headbang or whip out a nonsensical solo. The feeling of To Fathom the Master’s Grand Design is not of wild bacchanalia or satanic rites, but one of crisp press copy and shaky-text lyric videos, which.. hey, would you look at that?

orned Almighty - To Fathom the Master's Grand Design 02

But by far the most uninteresting part of To Fathom the Master’s Grand Design is its production. The guitars are chunky and controlled with a lot of mids, the bass lightly distorted and always present. The drums are crisp and punchy, the mix and master impeccable. I want none of it. This is not tattered leather vest production, this is Columbia wool pull-over production. Do you think Satan wants to get repped by a band that sounds like Be’lakor? Get the hell out of here. Distort the shit out of the bass! Crush your metronome! Fuck up your takes! Fire your engineer and record everything to two mics in the basement of a greasy restaurant! Why would you make an album that sounds this coiffed if you’re not bound by a Nuclear Blast contract to do so? Where is the swagger, the grime, the energy?

Which brings us back to Darkthrone. Even their most laid-back material is downright electric compared to To Fathom The Master’s Grand Design. Horned Almighty completely lacks the grime to sound evil or the swagger to sound unsavory. They don’t even sound unhygienic; the album is consummately professional, deeply commercial, entirely boring. Without that nastiness, the band’s simplistic music is on full display, and there’s really not that much to take in. Thirty-seven minutes split up into three-to-six minute segments that briskly jog past and take a shower if they get sweaty. This is the clean, sensible black ‘n roll album that you could introduce to your parents without much disapproval, and that’s exactly why you should want nothing to do with it.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 160 kbps mp3
Label: Scarlet Records
Websites: hornedalmighty.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/hornedalmighty
Releases Worldwide:
January 17th, 2020

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