You know what I don’t like? Wasting people’s time. You’re here because progressive death metal’s golden gods Horrendous have a new record called Idol, and you’re asking yourself, “Is it good? Will Horrendous’ streak of acclaimed albums continue? What in the world is that on the album cover?” Well, I’ve only got answers for two of those questions, but like Meat Loaf said, two out of three ain’t bad. Now that the Meat Loaf reference is out of the way, let’s get into Idol.
Up front, the band’s trademark vocals get close and personal with the tingly bits of the inner ear. I understand some listeners avoid Horrendous because of their vocal styling, but as a former critic, I think they’ve never sounded better than on Idol. The harsh sonant expressions convey a dour sense of weariness that only after many listens am I able to fully appreciate as an artistic choice. If Horrendous’ numerous vocal techniques were exhibitions in a museum, one would walk past the familiar weary squawk to the menacingly confident sneer (located near the Death exhibit); however, the cleanly sung choral arrangements and spoken word soliloquies draw much of my attention, and they’re performed wonderfully. Horrendous credit both Damian Herring and Matt Knox as resident growlers and guitarists, and they’re constantly dueling each other with their axes and oral articulations. Tremolo guitar riffs constantly clamber out of the silence, sonically arguing over Alex Kulick’s perfect bass guitar tone that sounds so milky and sumptuous, I want to pour it over cereal.
Progressive without pretension, Horrendous also excels in measured brutality. What I mean is that the band is aware of their sublime capabilities as songwriters, but they’re mature enough to know when to pull back and let the listener breathe. Progressive death metal isn’t easy music to write, and some bands try to fill the silent void with as many guitar solos and drum flourishes as they can muster. After all, the prog rock bands of yore were guilty of gorging on more noodles than a college student on a budget. Through smart atmosphere building and thoughtful songwriting, Horrendous coerces silence onto their side, forcing the listener to not only enjoy the solemnity, but to crave it. A particularly calm moment that comes to mind is the midpoint of “Devotion (Blood for Ink),” where the band decides to take things down a notch with cleanly-picked chords, shuddering bass, and a legit vocal melody that sounds awfully like Maynard James Keenan. For just a moment, the subtle audible murmur of a bass string relenting under Kulick’s nimble plectrum fingers emerges from the mix; sadistically, a gnarled yelp turns quiet into quietus, and Horrendous persists.
Horrendous are masters of maximizing the intangible qualities of an album, the little things you notice after multiple listens; however, it’s arguably more impressive to consider the common annoyances that you don’t notice, because they’re not there. For one, Idol is impeccably paced, with each track flowing seamlessly into the next. All killer and no filler, Horrendous respects the listener’s time by writing tight, dynamic songs that never feel overlong. Even the short instrumental pieces serve a purpose. Intro tracks on metal albums are a dime a dozen, but the meandering bass and ambient eeriness of “…Prescience” invoke ominous thoughts somewhere between melancholy and dread. Nearly every facet of an excellent progressive death metal album is on display, but when you consider the absence of time-wasting chaff that permeates the genre, Idol feels like a singular achievement. At a lean forty minutes, Idol breezes by like a Sunday afternoon, and it’s over before you know it.
But to Horrendous, the band is just checking boxes on their tried-and-true death metal formula. Is Idol perfect? No, nothing’s perfect. But, every time I listen to Idol, I never skip a track, I always listen from start to finish, and I hear something new that sweeps another nitpick under the rug. In a year where I’ve groused, whined, and cringed my way through reviewing metal, it’s nice to have nothing to complain about. If anything, it actually makes writing about music more difficult. You know what isn’t difficult? Listening to Idol. Don’t be silly, and buy this album.
Idol will be released by Season of Mist on September 28th, 2018
Pre-order the album here