But it’s also a genre of repetition and over-saturation. Certain cliches have formed out of once-revolutionary forms of expression and musical arrangement. In the past few years, I’ve become a bit bored with death metal. Every splinter of the genre — from tech death to the new rise in old-school death metal — has become a blurred mess. In turn, people like me have become numb to these tropes of the genre. It takes talent and vision for a band to create something in the genre that has impact, or at least separates itself sonically from the rest of the blood-soaked masses.
US band Horrendous are one such band.
Forming in 2009, Horrendous released a successful demo, earning praise in the death metal underground for their old-school death metal stylings. Their debut album, The Chills, continues down this retro path, but also incorporates influences from all over the death metal spectrum, as well as twinges of thrash and doom metal.
Like most albums in this style of death metal, their influences are rather obvious: Nihilist, Autopsy, Death, Asphyx, Dismembered, etc. but they mix it up with a twinge of trash and doom metal in there as well. Not only that, but the maniacal guitar work from Damian Herring and Matt Knox even has allusions to modern-day tech death, with melodic passages bringing to mind early At the Gates.
The bass is audible, groovy, and just as interesting as the guitar work here. I’m not sure who handled the bass parts, but they’re top notch, especially in a genre where said instrument is notoriously mixed out. Drummer Jamie Knox is solid. Nothing new in the genre, but the skill and talent required to handle death metal. For me, the vocals are the high point. Again, Matt Knox and Damian Herring prove they can channel the old legends of death metal; their delivery is reminiscent of Martin Van Drunen’s labored(in a good way) growl.
While all that sounds like standard retro-death, it’s how they use these musical elements that’s truly interesting. Much like last years Morbus Chron album Sleepers in the Rift (read our review here) was able to take this splinter of the genre into experimental, even progressive territory, Horrendous have a dynamic approach to their song writing that avoids the pit falls of predictability that plagues much of death metal these days. I was always engaged and interested while listening to The Chills, which is more than I can say for many albums. No rehashed riffs or obvious 2-beat drum patterns here; the songs feel organic and original, proving Horrendous have song writing talent that transcends the tropes of this genre. There were places on the album I was actually surprised — the eerie keyboard interlude of the penultimate track “Sleep Sickness”; the sludge-laden crawl of “Fatal Dreams”; and the massive-sounding choir in the 9-minute closer “The Eye of Madness” just to name a few.
I mentioned Morbus Chron earlier, and I think that the comparison between these two bands is fair. But where Morbux Chron seemed to take the earliest forms of death metal to form their own sound, Horrendous pick out influences from a bit later in the DM timeline. They’re almost like the evolution of Morbus Chron’s style, similar to what Dismember was to Entombed, or Morbid Angel was to Possessed.
Horrendous’ The Chills is one of the finest examples of retro-death metal done right. It rises above the cliches of the genre, creating both a time-warp to the early 90’s g(l)ory days, and a looking glass into the future of the genre. It’s hard to label the album “revolutionary,” but while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, the certainly adds to it in ways not done before. Despite feeling slightly derivative in the basic execution, The Chills remains an entertaining and engrossing slab of vicious death metal, and most certainly sets the bar high for 2012 death metal releases. Stream the album in full here.
(As a side note, the album art was done by Raul Gonzalez, who is also responsible for the amazing artwork on Morbus Chron’s Sleeper’s in the Rift. I’m also digging this slowly growing trend of space-horror and etherial themes in death metal, OSDM especially.)
For Fans of: Morbus Chron, Funebrarum, Asphyx, Dismember, Death, Entobed, early-At the Gates, Morbid Angel… Essentially, if you like death metal you owe it to yourself to give this a spin.