Horrified is in a bit of an odd place. Parallels to Philadelphia death outfit Horrendous are apt, with Horrified‘s first two albums delivering exactly the slabs of modernized Swedeath you might expect. Though 2016’s magnificent Of Despair put the band on the map, Horrified mastermind Dan Alderson himself immediately touted their next album as “something with an even larger and dynamic range of influences… more original and diverse than the material presented on Of Despair.” Downplaying your current release for the sake of your next is a ballsy move, but Alderson clearly knew he had something special on his hands with Allure of the Fallen. The result delivers on that promise, offering a take on Swedish death that sounds refreshingly little like anything we expect from the genre today.
Initially approaching Allure with Horrendous in mind worked in theory — Horrified previously occupied much of the same territory, albeit with a more adventurous soul. Another go-round on Alderson’s tortured mix of Martin van Drunen and John Tardy and his restrained Swedish buzzsaw sounded quite fine indeed. But Allure closes that door right from the start. “Allure of the Fallen” spends its seven minutes emerging from a cocoon, content to slowly unfurl rather than immediately satiate. The buzzsaw sound is nearly gone, replaced by a more agile tone with an inherent melodic prowess to it. New addition and Plague Rider mate Lee Anderson pilots the bass through Allure‘s undulating seas, ever-involved in the proceedings in a way that caught me off guard. This was supposed to be death metal, right? Well, kinda. Death and black shine in equal measure, but Horrified peak when fusing the two. “Light’s Dissolution” furthers Horrified‘s press into the amorphous darkness, but “The Perceiver” truly reveals the album’s blackened necrosis as terminal. Its murky passages blast and bustle through black/death territory that sounds more like In Human Form than Dissection but always remains palpable.
The Brits tap, glide, and roll across a variety of riffs and ideas that rarely disappoint. Influences begin with, yes, Horrendous, but span as far as Death, Vinterland and early Insomnium. “The Promise of Solace” develops the distinct rhythm of a Metallica ballad into a gruesome, soul-rending exercise in blackened emotion, only to fade into a somber passage that could feature on an Agalloch album. “Shorn” goes the route of Katatonia doom-as-melodic death instead. Horrified‘s willingness to explore is not necessarily new, as passages of Of Despair proved, but this newfound dedication handles elements of death, black, doom, and thrash metal far more capably than even those initial presages suggested. The band still have some kinks to work out, however. With so many moving parts, disparate passages sometimes feel like mismatched puzzle pieces. Moments like that of “Unanswered” scrape across rhythms, from one tone to the next, leaving the listener behind with mind-boggling fervor. These shifting sands play into the album’s lack of natural culmination. The natural highs of their sporadic blackened charges carry a Cascadian atmosphere about them, yet come across more as pieces of a larger picture, not as a rallying point or final destination.
In its fusion, Allure also sheds the hallmark shortcomings in both black and death production. Damian Herring of Horrendous fame returns for another turn on the soundboard, bringing with him the same expertise that made Of Despair (and Horrendous‘ own offerings) so damn enticing. The fleshed out bass treatment adds yet another level of dynamism to the record, while Alderson’s vocals and James Charlton’s drums sound phenomenal, more than capable of weaving the multi-layered tapestry that Alderson had in mind. Unfortunately, I found myself wishing for more bulk in the guitar tones. I imagine cutting across genres so neatly had to limit their options. Their melodic stomping ground of choice takes nothing away from the best stretches of the album, like “Light’s Dissolution,” but “Unanswered” and “Shorn” need more meat on their bones.
Horrified may still have room to grow, but the band receives credit nonetheless. To churn out a third album within eighteen months is tough enough. To dissect a blossoming sound and reassemble it as a boundary-pushing genre-bender with little resemblance to its former self is harder still. To incorporate a constellation of directions while still ensuring the record is fully formed out of the box, capable of somber emotion and dizzying technicality and savage victory? Allure of the Fallen is downright impressive.