Catapulted to death metal stardom following a remarkable career evolution between their solid debut, The Chills, to the outstanding slab of technically proficient and innovative old school death that signaled their arrival in the big leagues with 2014’s Ecdysis, it’s been an eventful few years for Horrendous. They released the excellent Anareta, a darker, proggier cousin to Ecdysis in 2015, allowing the dust to settle before returning to the studio. So where does Horrendous go from here? And where do I go after recklessly hurling superlatives over their past two albums with the salivating enthusiasm of a heavy set man at a hot dog eating contest. One thing’s certain, expectations from the band’s bloated fan-base will be sky high after the three-year wait following Anareta.
Idol marks the band’s fourth LP, and right from the outset, it’s clear Horrendous remain eager to twist and mutate their established sound in clever ways to stave off any semblance of redundancy or rehashing of past glories. Sure, they wear their Atheist and later-era Death influences proudly, but through their expert songcraft and fresh perspective, Horrendous continue to avoid sounding stale or derivative as they plunge deeper into a progressive rabbit hole. Fear not folks, this off-kilter and complex web of progressiveness doesn’t come at the expense of their rawer, retro-death core, with the speed and aggression suitably cranked to counterpoint the proggier forays and increased focus on atmospherics. Matt Knox and Damian Herring are at the top of their game and fast entering elite realms of deathly dual guitar mastery. The duo’s fretwork is complex but never showy, remaining grounded in the context of the organic, free-flowing compositions. There’s an engaging abundance of intricate leads, warped prog dabbling, and emotive clean passages, counter-punched with aggressive, groovy, and addictive riffing. Meanwhile, the soloing is top shelf stuff; classy, soulful, and tastefully incorporated.
Once again the raw-throated dueling vocals of guitarists’ Knox and Herring ooze emotion, but remain the least impressive aspect of the band. Take nothing away from their solid performance, but listeners put off previously will find little has changed to sway their opinion. Although the chanting, understated cleans that crop-up occasionally are a welcome variation, especially during the momentous ebb and flow of the outstanding “Devotion (Blood for Ink),” a glorious, headbanging beast of a song. “Soothsayer” crams a ton of interesting ideas into a twisty, aggressive, and efficient composition, bringing godly riffs, punchy basslines, and soulful shred into the equation. The unpredictability of the album is one of its strengths, with the stellar writing constantly keeping you on edge, as verse-chorus-verse structure is thrown out the window in favor of daringly progressive and intriguing structures. This would count for little if Horrendous couldn’t pen a cohesive and memorable tune, but thankfully they are very well versed in this respect. They stick the landing consistently throughout Idol, with no major missteps, although the album’s mid-section stands out, highlighted by the groovy, melodic bounce, brilliant musicianship, and fiery aggression of “Golgothan Tongues.”
While perhaps not as immediate as its predecessors, Idol warrants and deserves repeat plays to fully appreciate and unlock the reliably strong songwriting and intricacies contained within. The production job, once again courtesy of Herring, is fucking fantastic and should be a sonic blueprint for high fidelity and dynamic metal production in the modern scene. Meanwhile, the addition of bassist Alex Kulick is impactful, with his clearly audible and engaging work adding an extra dimension to the Horrendous prog-death template. In fact, performances from the band are exemplary across the board, pushing their skills to the limit and proving they are easily one of death metal’s tightest and most cohesive units. Special mention for drummer Jamie Knox, who really outdoes himself here with a powerhouse and highly creative performance.
On a continual trail of forward thinking arse-kickery and old school devotion, Horrendous deliver again with Idol, maintaining their impeccable hot streak and solidifying their position at the forefront of the current death metal scene. Idol may not outdo the exemplary Ecdysis, a modern classic, but it finds Horrendous widening their progressive lens and pushing themselves creatively with further impressive results.