(In this 43rd edition of The Synn Report, Andy Synn reviews the discography of the sadly departed Russian band Heironymus Bosch.)
Recommended for fans of: Gorod, Atheist, Obscura
Are you a fan of Tech Death? Or Progressive Death Metal? Bands with a Schuldiner-esque grasp of futuristic fretboard faculties that blur the lines between the two and stretch the boundaries of what can be done within the genre? Then this one, my friend, is for you…
Now I’m afraid I can’t take credit for discovering this wonderful little band on my own, as that must go to Mr. Andrew Workman, the fleet-fingered bassist for both my own band and for Taken By The Tide, who, while driving to play a show in Bristol last year, calmly turned to me and said the immortal words, “Did I ever play you any Hieronymus Bosch?”
He hadn’t. But now I’m damn glad he did.
Because Hieronymus Bosch were a fan-fucking-phenomenal Progressive/Technical Death Metal band from Russia who produced three albums of viscerally heavy, virtuoso complexity before their eventual dissolution in April 2010, leaving behind a little-known legacy of amazingly intricate, astronomically implausible riffs, belligerent, barking vocals, sinuous fretless bass work, and drumming that was the very definition of “superior”.
There’s no doubt in my mind that – were it better known – this is the sort of stuff that would leave Michael Keene green with envy, and have Gorod eating their berets out of sheer jealousy. The sort of stuff that belongs in the Progressive Death Metal hall of fame alongside such luminaries as Death, Cynic, and Sadus. It really is that good.
THE HUMAN ABSTRACT – 1995
Slightly divided from the subsequent records (it would be ten long years before the follow-up would finally be released), Hieronymus Bosch’s first album still exudes the sort of timeless feel that only the very best bands can pull-off.
Right from the moment the choppy riffs and fluctuating bass lines of “The Apogee” kick in you know you’re in for a treat. The gurgling guttural vocals and sharp shocks of kick-drum bring the heavy without restraint, while the crunching, cutting riffs could etch diamond with their laser-sharp precision.
“Thought Racism Forms” is an esoteric piece of lithe bass lines and strange atmospherics, backed up by some jarring, devastating drumming and jerky, densely distorted guitars. It’s followed by the pummelling rhythms and thrashy flick-knife frenzy of “Petra Scandali”, which meshes barbaric growls and decadent descending melodies with some truly frenetic, complicated riffage, climaxing in an audaciously aggressive, judderingly convulsive conclusion.
“Black Lake Blues”, the first of three strikingly different instrumental interludes, breaks up the pace somewhat with its brazen, ballsy swagger, paving the way for the outrageous fret-worship of “The Human Abstract”. And yet, although the lead guitar work does transition from darkly epic majesty, to scintillating melody, to furious fretboard frenzy with impressive aplomb, it’s more than just a showcase for the band’s outlandish instrumental abilities, demonstrating also their impressive grasp of pacing and progression as it shifts from chaotic, to calculating, to contemplative at a moment’s notice.
“Mental Perfection” takes the band’s thrashy roots and twists them into something altogether stranger – agitated and aggressive, squalling and dissonant, sweet and terrible, like a madman’s lullaby. By contrast, “The Garden of Earthly Delights” – the second of the album’s instrumental arrangements, titled after their namesake’s most famous piece of work — is a more thought-provoking display of string-straining lead guitar work and mind-bending progressive impulses that’s equal parts Pestilence and Pink Floyd.
Speaking of Pestilence, the primal crush and techy chops of “Doubt Soul” owe more than a small debt to the Dutch masters of deathly fusion dynamics, the song’s barely controlled chaos and densely packed power providing a master class in awkward, angular heaviness, only slightly soothed by the interplay of reverberant distorted guitars and smooth acoustic ambience found on closing instrumental “Expectation of Autumn”.
What we have here is a half-forgotten piece of heavy metal history still waiting to take its place as one of the finest debuts of the nascent Technical/Progressive Death Metal scene.
ARTIFICIAL EMOTIONS – 2005
This is where things really started to come together though. After a lengthy hiatus to re-gather their chi, Artificial Emotions is the phenomenal rebalancing of the band’s deathly technical yin with their ever more expressive, ever more progressive yang.
The irrepressible energy of “Interference” starts things off. The drums beat out their brutal, bouncy beats with punishing power, as the guitars scorch and sizzle with their blazing high-end fret work and scattergun, staccato riffage.
The enigmatic “Third Half” transforms from an edgy crawl to a thrashing torrent of riffs and spiralling leads in the blink of an eye, before the sudden introduction of a strangely disharmonic atmosphere and some unexpectedly proggy clean vocals throws the first of many curve-balls at the listener. Yet when it’s eventually unleashed, it’s clear that Vsevolod Gorvenko’s abrasive growl has lost none of its bite, nor his bass playing any of its supple vigour, it’s just that this is a song determined to pack as much strange and exotic variety into its run-time as possible (as well as a truly killer solo).
Subtly ominous instrumental “Nodus” sets the stage for the barely contained nervous energy of “Escape from Primitivity”, a song whose tense balance between taut tech-riffage and off-kilter ambience always seems on the verge of explosion, before the obscure fusion-metal of “Tired Eyes” – akin to latter day Death as heard in the confines of a smoky jazz club – rips up the rule-book with its unique blending of stabbing death dynamics and deviant atmospherics.
The time-shifting, tempo-twisting drums of “Blind Windows Stare” make the song an effortlessly unpredictable joy to listen to, from its electro-shock riffage to its dizzying multi-faceted melodic lead guitar runs, while “Dewswimmer” is a bass-led, Cynic-influenced piece of instrumental frippery that navigates the album into the choppy waters of “Practical Criticisms”, whose heaving, groove-laden riffs are periodically whipped into a frenzy by blistering winds of whirling lead guitar.
The softly progressive, faintly Gallic instrumental strains of “Whispers in Bedlam” lead into the suitably climactic, anxiety-inducing riffage of album closer “Heartbeat Seismology”. For just over six and a half minutes it writhes and shudders through a series of stomping, stabbing guitar parts, tense melodic interludes, and precociously poetic lead guitar patterns, moving from soaring solo sections to moments of progressive melodic ambience, underpinned by an ever-present performance of stunningly impressive percussive prowess.
Complex and compelling from start to finish, and more and more rewarding with each and every listen.
EQUIVOKE – 2008
This album is, in no uncertain terms, a forgotten masterpiece of the tech/progressive death metal scene. Every instrument, every song, every unconventional zig and impeccable zag, every massive hook and heaving riff, locked together in a seamless synthesis of devastating death metal dynamism and perplexing progressive potential.
The album pulls no punches right from the start, kicking-off with the show-stopping “Zero On A Dice”, all tangled staccato riffs, twitchy drum patterns, and undulating bass lines, broken up by moments of shameless technical pizzazz, lithe melodic nuance, fluid progressive ambience, and some searing solo spectacle.
It’s partnered up with yet another scene-stealer in “Fingerprint Labyrinth”, which melds swaying harmonics and piercing riff work with a gravel-throated vocals and an absolutely unforgettable lead guitar hook, matched up with some truly excellent drum work, an unexpected stop-start lead/bass trade-off during the song’s bridge, and yet another fantastic, prog-inflected solo.
They follow this up with the Gorod-esque “Monad Hecatomb”, a free-flowing piece of technical jazz-metal that positively revels in its own dissonant weirdness and madcap theatrical melodies, as if someone forced Chuck Schuldiner, Frank Zappa, and Andrew Lloyd Webber into a locked room and refused to allow them out until they came up with something both weird and wonderful.
The three instrumental pieces on the album, “Forlorn Luminary”, “Scrupulum”, and “Scoffer Tragedian”, allow the band some extra breathing room to explore their more melodic and progressive inclinations without any of that pesky metal getting in the way. By contrast the mechanically tight, manically twisted “Stones and Stocks” errs more in the other direction, pummelling the listener with an avalanche of venomous vocals and iron-clad riffage.
The atonally melodic, disharmonic death march of “Tracer Bullet Falling Star” is an awesome exercise in intelligence and intensity, re-arranging your thought patterns with its simply stunning drum work and armour-piercing cerebral riff bombs, detonating melodic mental depth charges in the very centre of your ravaged cortex. After which “Broke” hammers away at your already bruised eardrums with its dissonant dervish melodies, stomping, mechanoid heaviness, and clenching, thrashy rhythms.
It all climaxes with the exceptional, esoteric, and epic strains of “The Mime”, packing in a veritable abattoir’s array of razor-sharp metallic hooks into its enigmatic, progressive structure, as coiled bass lines flex and flense beneath a withering hail of tech-tastic riffs and pummelling drumming artillery
Truly a lost legend of the genre, it’s time to give this album the respect it deserves.