(Leperkahn reviews the new album by Horrendous.)
Unlike a lot of the metal community, I didn’t come to Anareta as a particularly rabid fan of Horrendous – I had heard plenty of praise for its predecessor, Ecdysis, but I hadn’t gotten around to playing the CD copy I got on sale from 20 Buck Spin earlier this summer. Thus, I came to Anareta with an open mind. And let me say, HOT DIGGITY DAMN, this might be the best thing I’ve heard all year. These guys harken back to the time when death metal was just starting to flex its wings and go in new, progressive, melodic directions, evoking Death’s Human and At the Gates, pre-Slaughter of the Soul.
It starts much as Ecdysis did, with a slow section of doomy guitars that seem very free-form – yet this opening section of “The Nihilist” serves an important purpose, as it’s a welcome palette cleanser, a built-in intro before the band launches into the main riff. That main riff, or rather the sequence of two riffs the band alternate between after the intro, are easily the best opening-song riffs I’ve heard all year – one listen to their one-two punch will convince you that “The Nihilist” was destined to be an opener, and a hell of an opener at that. I can’t help but want to start running around like a methed-out maniac in the middle of my suburban cul-de-sac.
It’s also immediately clear that this album is much more skewed toward a sort of melodic, progressive style of death metal, though much more in line with the very beginnings of that movement with mid-period Death, rather than what each of those movements has become. There’s certainly less of a NWOBHM feel to the riffs here and elsewhere on Anareta, as compared to, say, “The Stranger” on the previous album (I totally feel like K.K. Downing could’ve written that main riff). The production also stands out very early, as the band continue (thankfully) to master things very quietly, while slotting a less Swedeath guitar tone along with some fantastic bass flourishes.
The more measured pace of “Ozymandias” comes next, which feels like you’re tumbling through some sort of dream state during the first few minutes, punctuated by a change in vocal style from the previous song, as the Martin van Drunen-esque howls transition to a much more scathing passionate, furious style, reminiscent of the Tomas Lindberg of old, at his most vitriolic (I’ll be honest, I don’t know which voice belongs to Damian Herring and which belongs to Matt Knox, both of whom share guitar, bass, and vocal duties).
In listening to some of Horrendous’ back catalog I’ve found it a little harder to get into the former vocals, yet the latter absolutely get me every time, and on Anareta the former are used masterfully, coming in just as a song would be better served by them, rather than in a more “close-up” vocal style (for lack of a better term – the van Drunen-style vocals sound more distant, while the Lindberg ones sound like they’re right in your ear).
All of that says nothing of the fantastic journey “Ozymandias” takes you on, however, with some absolutely dazzling solos and dark, gorgeous melodies weaving around moments of aggression, climaxing right at the end with a catharsis of pure thrash energy.
That seven-minute journey is followed by “Siderea”, an instrumental that further serves to highlight the comparison to Human, as it feels just as vital as “Cosmic Sea” must have almost 25 years ago, with evocative melodies interlocking and gliding around each other. “Polaris”, though it includes vocals, feels like an even closer cousin to “Cosmic Sea”. It has a sense of space to it even at its most aggressive, like you are floating along and observing some kind of horrifically violent cosmic chaos from afar, so that the rage at hand almost has a sense of beauty in its power.
All of a sudden, “Acolytes” feels much closer to the listener, as its colossal opening notes sound like an escalation, and a return to the sense of immediacy that had drifted away during “Ozymandias”. On this track the band up the tempo for the first time since “The Nihilist”, and remind you that, despite the language of melody and progression I’ve been using, this is still a death metal album through and through, and it’ll still rip your goddamned throat out.
About two-thirds of the way through the song, its thrashy character becomes more fleshed-out with some audible bass flourishes that bring back the progressive character of Anareta and transition smoothly into what could almost be called something happy – there’s an odd sense of hope to the cascade of sound that closes the final few minutes of “Acolytes”. It almost feels like a sort of euphoric cinematic climax in the journey Anareta takes us on.
This flows beautifully into the opening acoustic guitar of “Sum of All Failures”, the first track to premiere from Anareta, and almost a second opener of sorts. After the acoustic intro, the band jolt you into a goddamn firestorm of harrowing riffs and throat-rending vocals. I can see why this track was picked to premiere first; it feels like a mission statement, a track chock-full of aggression and energy, yet still accented by remarkably inventive melodies and rounded out by a hell of a solo. This was the first track I heard from the album, as I saw it mere hours before the promo showed up in my in-box, and it’s this track that made me do a double-take and wonder how I had missed out on this band for the whole Ecdysis album cycle.
“Stillborn Gods” brings back the NWOBHM riffs and pacing that hadn’t really been a part of Anareta up until this song, and frankly feels like a track you straight-up groove to. It has an odd pop sense to it, with hooks for days, yet still is mixed with Horrendous’ new Death-like delivery.
It’s here I should mention that, despite all of the absolutely impeccable riffs on display in the album, it took a while for them to really stick with me. I was absolutely enthralled when listening to the album, yet at first not many of the riffs were lodging themselves in my head. Then again, I’ve found that it’s albums like this one — records that draw you in like a siren’s call and have you mesmerized while you’re listening, yet leave you almost disoriented once you leave — that prove to be the most intoxicating. Over time, they can have you diving back in for more far more often than any sort of disposable collection of catchy songs that stays in your head for a few weeks, then never comes to mind again.
By erecting a barrier to your memory of the riffs, Horrendous require you to put in some of the legwork, and really invest time and effort into the album. The press release advised us writers to spend a little time with this one, and that advice was more right than I could’ve predicted at the time – I’ve been able to sit with this for nearly a month at this point, and I’m still finding elements hidden in the woodwork, and layers to peel back.
The album ends on a harrowing note with “The Solipsist (Mirrors Gaze)”, as the dreamy quality that hangs over much of the album seems to become a slow-crawling nightmare, with the final riff fading out with considerable menace, leaving you uneasy, and frankly forcing you to allow for some silence afterward – you feel the need to give the album a sense of respect, and divorce it from whatever you might be planning to put on next.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I didn’t come to this as an already-converted fan – candidly, I held a bit of prejudice against these guys, and for some reason had written them off as an OSDM band too focused on maintaining the aura of the old school and aping their idols to really do anything that would’ve been more than an afterthought. And to be sure, the new wave of OSDM of the last several years has certainly produced its fair share of bands who seem unconvinced that the ‘90s can be improved upon, and are content to pay homage to by-gone greats by trying to copy their sound and recording fidelity as best they can.
Let me tell you unequivocally that Horrendous are anything but that. While they certainly stand firmly against what has become of much of modern metal production (they are among the fiercest warriors against the Loudness Wars that have gradually become an epidemic in this post-Pro Tools era, something for which I applaud them), that’s not to say that they don’t still want to move the genre forward, and they create music that can’t be summed up by the correct combination of bands and albums past.
Anareta shows a band who want to innovate and forge a path that is wholly their own, something they are wildly successful in doing. In a year that’s been yet another embarrassment of riches for extreme metal, I truly can’t think of an album that has captured my attention in the way Anareta has and left me begging for more by the end. It’s going to take something truly mind-boggling, and just about perfect, to outshine this album in 2015. For myself, I’m doubtful that there’s a single album (outside of maybe Baroness’s Purple) that even has a shot.
Anareta will be released by Dark Descent Records on October 30. The album features striking cover art by Brian Smith. Listen to two songs below.