East Coast death metal trio Horrendous, consisting of guitarist/vocalist Damien Herring and Matt Knox, and drummer Jamie Knox, released their debut full-length The Chills in 2012, amid a full-on old school death metal (OSDM) revival. While hints of their future potential were certainly present, their sound at the time consisted primarily of an amalgamation of early Entombed and Dismember. By the time their second album, 2013’s Ecdysis, arrived, though, the group’s creativity had grown by leaps and bounds. A new emphasis on melody and dynamics had emerged, and the songs seemed more complex and better thought out. Now, Horrendous has released their third full-length, Anareta, like its predecessors on Dark Descent Records. (Get it from Amazon.) The progress present on Ecdysis has been both solidified and expanded upon, and the group now seems to be one of the most exciting prospects currently active in the genre.
Anareta opens with “The Nihilist,” picking up where the second album left off while simultaneously setting the stage for what’s to come. A melodic introduction quickly gives way to a frantic opening. While many death metal bands play at faster tempos than Horrendous, they nonetheless convey a sense of unbridled energy, each riff played with a sense of urgency.
The second track, “Ozymandias,” showcases more key features of the band. First of all, while Swedish death metal is certainly still a key influence, the late guitarist Chuck Schuldiner‘s band Death has become a more apparent component of the group’s sound with each album. They seem to capture the sweet spot of Death‘s style, cranking out midtempo riffs with twisted melodies, neither too primitive nor too progressive. Furthermore, one cannot discount the role of traditional metal, either. There is a focus on memorable riffs here, as well as guitar harmonies and powerful solos.
“Siderea” is a fascinating follow-up to the first two songs. A band choosing to place an instrumental this early in their album is clearly intent on making a statement, and further accentuating their strengths. This is Horrendous at their best, dripping with atmosphere and with every note well-wrought and necessary to the structure of the overall piece. The bass, here as well as on the rest of Anareta, plays complex countermelody lines that are always tasteful.
“Polaris” brings back the vocals, and perfectly captures the aforementioned Death influence, harkening back to their groundbreaking 1991 album Human. “Polaris” slowly ramps up the intensity as it progresses, the tempos increasing steadily throughout its running time.
If “Polaris” builds momentum, “Acolytes” grabs that torch and runs with it. After a short introduction, Horrendous shows off their more traditional death metal influences, the riffs becoming faster and more brutal than what has come before. Yet, with less than two minutes remaining, everything suddenly shifts gears. A melodic riff dominates the remainder of the song, the tonality is almost bright and hopeful – an adventurous statement, given the context. This flows nicely into the acoustic beginning of the following track, “The Sum of All Failures.” Once the intro ends, this song dives right back into the fray with some of the fastest and heaviest material on the entire album. Again and again, though, Horrendous aims to throw the listener off; the piece shifts tempos and moods often, providing a consistency to the band’s compositions, unpredictable as they may seem.
At this point, “Stillborn Gods” reins in the tempos in a manner similar to earlier songs on the album. Like “Ozymandias,” this song is notable for its traditional metal influence, with things proceeding at a consistent mid-tempo for most of its length. It also has a lot of open power chords, which allows the vocals more space.
Album closer “The Solipsist (Mirrors Gaze)” is an effective summation of everything of which Horrendous is capable. The song conveys an epic mood and its traditionally influenced riffing pairs nicely with the previous track. It provides a fitting conclusion to the album as a whole.
Horrendous mines a particular vein running throughout the metal genre, although not one necessarily explored by every band. Their work takes you on a journey and achieves this feeling through labyrinthine songwriting and deep, somber melodies and harmonies. Very rarely, though, do bands strike such a wonderful balance between brutality and tasteful, memorable execution. Sometimes, one imagines they can hear different songs being composed at different times, some pieces more mature than others, but with barely over a year between Ecdysis and Anareta, there is a rare sense of cohesion at work. One can only hope Horrendous continues to crank out such powerful material at this breakneck pace.
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