As Angry Metal Guy’s resident post-metal aficionado, I’ve been bombarded with more of the cresting-and-climaxing heavy stuff than a crab-walking man-cat can possibly handle. Epic-length songs featuring more build-ups than a pro-wrestling pay-per-view? Check. Thundering drums? Check. Cascading riffs and bass work that doesn’t teem with melody so much as it just levels you into (and sometimes through) the ground? Check and mate. But over the years, the post-metal genre has been running itself into the ground, churning out facsimiles of what Neurosis and Isis have laid out years before. So when a band such as Switzerland’s The Crotals comes along, armed with a new vocalist, and a second album with a simple title in Horde, the hair on my neck, knuckles, and spacious belly stands on end, preparing for another trip down well-worn paths littered with celestial towers, silver-tainted bloodstains, and other post-metal cliches.
But while nothing new is brought to the table, The Crotals instead focus on incredibly strong songwriting and powerful hooks, and the results range from “good” to “goddaaaaaaamn.” That becomes readily apparent when opener “Falling” bowls over you with colossal riffs and heavy drumming. New vocalist Randy Schaller (Voice of Ruin) does bear more than a passing resemblance to a heavily-accented version of both Matt Pike (High on Fire) and Aaron Turner (Isis), but his howls turn things up considerably among all the bulldozing. Instead of taking their dear sweet time in build-ups and crescendos, the band simply decided to say, “fuck it,” and just lay you out in as little time as possible.
And I wish more bands would do just that, as The Crotals bludgeon without needing to resort to long song times. “Overcrowded” crushes with more efficiency in a hair over two minutes than most bands requiring four or more times that length. “Skogen” also bores through your head in a hair under three minutes and packs more in its short run time than most bands who take their time chewing the scenery. In fact, the longest song on here, the almost four-and-a-half minute “Lava,” still pulls you along its journey and never once feels complacent. Trimming the fat off the song and keeping the essentials is a lost art these days, and The Crotals have learned to condense their music for better impact.
That doesn’t mean the album lacks some considerable flaws. Some of the lyrics are goofy as fuck, and the biggest offender lies in the second track “Hello,” with its repeated screams of “HELLO!” and “I HATE YOU!!!” sounding both silly and more than a bit awkward. Also, the production, heavy as it is, is compressed within an inch of its life, with Fabrice Marguerat’s cymbals sounding a bit too splashy, and Maude Oswald’s bass work feeling a bit too buried in parts. But the largest issue lies in the fact that, as good as it is, it doesn’t push boundaries. You have, indeed, heard this all before, and The Crotals aren’t reinventing the wheel here.
But again, they don’t need to. Horde is a rock-solid second album from a band that already knows how to navigate paths, and what to do to streamline and compact their intent for maximum impact. Sure, it’s not original, but I will take a band putting out a powerful record that hits with the force of a tidal wave, yet does so in less time than it takes most bands of their ilk. As it stands, Horde hints at greater things for this young band. Keep your eyes out.