Death metal doesn’t need to be complicated to be good. Sometimes, the dirtier and crustier it is—the more old-school, raw and knuckle-dragging in its brutality—the more fun it is; it certainly worked back in the genre’s infancy. But at this stage the difference between good death metal and great death metal is significantly more vast. There’s something admirable, even respectable about honing in on the simplicity and brutality of it, but the bands that transcend basic riffage are the ones who come to reshape death metal and set a new standard for intricate abrasiveness. Philadelphia’s Horrendous is one of those bands, having already earned their share of acclaim with previous albums Ecdysis and Anareta, each one a thrilling balance of old-school crunch, technical dazzle and melodic innovation. They’re the sort of band that strikes first with their best riff, mesmerizes with their remarkable musicianship and ultimately take hold of the listener’s attention with some of the best songs in death metal today.
Horrendous‘ Idol—their fourth album and first released through Season of Mist— is as much a continuation of the template laid out on their previous albums as it is the exploration of bold new frontiers. For as often as the band have been dubbed part of the “New Wave of Old School Death Metal,” that’s an ideal rather than a direct comparison. They’re catchier than Death, crunchier than Cynic and vastly more progressive than Autopsy or Entombed. But the spirit of those bands courses through their veins—any contemporary death metal band worth their embalming salt should have already done that homework years ago. Horrendous simply aren’t bound by the past or the outdated models.
When going the direct route, Horrendous are unstoppable. Opening track “Soothsayer,” which follows a brief intro, is an adrenaline rush of a song, launching with some raw, crunchy riffs whose immediacy seems to contradict their knotty mix of time signatures. And well before the two-minute mark, the band engages in both a high-speed series of harmonies and a handful of righteous grooves. It’s a testament to the band’s ability to never stop moving—their thrill level never relents. There’s diversity within their venomous assault, however, as they indulge in a psychedelic, goth-prog sound in “The Idolater,” soaring harmonies on “Golgothan Tongues,” dissonant art-metal weirdness on “Divine Anhedonia” and one hell of a badass gallop in “Devotion (Blood for Ink)“, not to mention an impressive section of clean singing that evokes peak Opeth. There’s no shortage of ideas in Horrendous’ quiver, and all the talent and will to pull off every idea they attempt. It’s a thing of a wonder to watch them go.
Though Idol contains the same number of tracks as its predecessor, two of them are interludes, which on the surface might give the impression of a slighter set of music. While they might have shaved off a few minutes here or there, however, the overall effect is a more overwhelming and awe-inspiring set of music. Idol’s six meaty compositions are that much more progressive and complex than anything they’ve done before. They didn’t necessarily need the kind of ornateness and grandeur on display here to make a spectacular record, but that they did speaks greater volumes about the caliber of their death metal.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.