Of all the throwback forms of metal that conjure warm fuzzy feelings of nostalgia, the famed Sunlight Studios sound, pioneered in Sweden during the late 80s/early 90’s, remains the most endearing yet oversaturated styles around. For every Bloodbath, Entrails or Blood Mortized there are countless other derivative bands bogged down by their lack of songwriting finesse and fresh ideas. So when East Coast death metal crew Horrendous burst onto the scene in 2012 with their accomplished debut album The Chills, it gave the tired style a welcome shot of adrenaline. They brought tons of energy to the table, skilfully meshing that classic old school Swedish death sound with humid strains culled from the classic Floridian death metal scene. The Chills didn’t quite deliver a knockout blow, but it certainly established Horrendous as a gifted young band worth keeping on the radar. Well, I’ll be damned, because a mere two years later Horrendous have completed one of the more remarkable artistic progressions in recent memory with their near flawless sophomore album Ecdysis.
Ecdysis trumps its solid predecessor by a considerable margin, with virtually every aspect of Horrendous’ makeup, execution and presentation been lifted tenfold. From the songwriting, production and musicianship right down to the striking artwork, Ecdysis absolutely kills. Horrendous’ continue adorning their influences proudly on their sleeves, but everything has been notably chiselled, refined and enhanced from the debut. While there’s a distinctive old school vibe to the material, Ecdysis has its own character and modern inflections to avoid falling into derivative trappings. The band’s riffs, melodies and compositional skills have come along in giant leaps and bounds since the debut, resulting in a far more dynamic and engaging album.
Although not exactly household names, Damian Herring and Matt Knox deliver spectacular guitar heroics and top shelf riffs in spades, providing many of the album’s thrills and highlights. Whether dishing out gnarled, old school Swedeath riffs, grinding doom-like dirges or getting downright soulful through the swift array of snaking melodies and beautifully crafted guitar solos, the duo’s performance oozes confidence and class. Meanwhile audible basslines actually stand-out and demand attention, nullifying the typical ‘insecure metal bass player syndrome’ of being drowned out by the other instruments. Vocals get the job done pretty well, consisting of dry, raw throated growls reminiscent of Martin van Drunen and Chuck Schuldiner and occasionally embellished by impactful clean vocal incantations.
Each of the ten songs offers something distinct, catchy and memorable in an everflowing stream of old school death metal mastery. From fast, thrashy stompers “Weeping Relic” and “Resonator” to the twisting structures and dynamics of “Pavor Nocturnus,” Ecdysis is a consistent multi-faceted beast from start to finish. Horrendous’ increased use of melody serves as a powerful counterpunch to their more aggressive components, creating a sinister tone and atmosphere to the album. Epic opener “The Stranger” showcases the band’s rapid progression across seven epic minutes of graceful shredding, rollicking groove and fluid dynamic shifts. Even instrumental tracks “The Vermillion” and the slightly out-of-place but excellent trad metal gallop of “When the Walls Fell” leave solid impacts. Ramping-up the doom quotient pays handsome dividends as well, best evidenced on the burly melodicism of “Heaven’s Deceit.” “Nepenthe” is another standout, sounding like a mangled modernized hybrid of Leprosy-era Death and lashings of Heartwork-styled melody, before taking on a life of its own through a stunning climax.
Angry Metal Guy himself would surely be impressed by the outstanding dynamics and supreme production and mixing jobs on the album. Ecdysis is armed with a sonically heavy and organic sound that offers clarity, hefty tones and an impeccably balanced platform for the band to work off. The only slight drawback to the album is that Horrendous aren’t pedalling the most original sound around. Even that point is swiftly counteracted by the sheer quality of the songwriting and fresh twists and modern flavors the band effortlessly weave into their old school tapestry.
The term ‘ecdysis’ means the shedding of skin by crustaceans, reptiles and insects, creating fitting symbolism behind the metamorphosis Horrendous have undertaken since their debut release. When all is said and done, Ecdysis is one of 2014’s essential death metal albums. Phenomenal.