May 032023

(On May 5th Pelagic Records will release a new album by the Swiss “progressive sludge” band Herod, and below we present DGR‘s review of this new record.)

Herod‘s Iconoclast is not an album you would normally prescribe for May weather, with the sun finally threatening to peak its head around a seemingly never-ending (though much appreciated) cloud season in this corner of the globe. The Swiss group’s third release is a dense block of oppressive heaviness that dresses itself in all things artificial and organic in order to become a monster attempting to fuse multiple different styles into one angular creature.

Given the amount of weapons at musician Pierre Carroz‘s disposal when it comes to Iconoclast, that monster has let its tendrils run wild to create something that is unfriendly on immediate approach, yet its sense of groove is undeniable, to the point of being near-hypnotic.

The ever-constant hammering and air-raid-siren atmosphere of opening track “The Icon” seems to lock you in place without you even noticing. Its pulse is unerringly precise and because of that Iconoclast reveals itself to be the mutant-machine hybrid that it seems Herod were damned and determined to come up with. By the time events end about forty minutes later, you’re left just as shaken as you were upon first approach, and it’s hard not to agree they’ve succeeded.

The Pelagic Records roots run deep on Herod‘s new release and they reach well into the Swiss metal scene as well. Herod have one of the many people who’ve handled vocals for The Ocean with them in the form of Mike Pilat, and current Ocean vocalist Loic Rosetti also makes an appearance later on in the closing moments of the album in “The Prophecy”.

Every song on Iconoclast is titled with some permutation of “The _____” and that gives it a sense of bluntness that is wielded as you would expect a hammer might. It is the sort of release where objectives are stated early within each song and then nailed to the wall with a sniper’s accuracy by about the mid-point of said song. There’s plenty of atmospheric work put into play on Iconoclast as well, and the team behind Herod turn the whole album into a journey of sorts, though there is always an every-present sense that a gigantic obsidian rectangle is going to fall from the sky and land right on top of you at any moment – even during the semi ‘peaceful’ moments like “The Ode To…”.

Cryptopsy vocalist and podcast entrepreneur Matt McGachy also makes an appearance to push things into way, way heavier territory during “The Edifice”, which arrives early on within Iconoclast and is the song just prior to the aforementioned “The Ode To…”. So you launch from three songs that exist as a giant hand slowly pressing you into the Earth with typewriter-precise grooves and neck-snapping rhythm with nary a guitar lead or showy solo to be found, lending credence to Herod‘s industrial side, to the multi-faceted choir of “The Ode To…” as you journey from one half of the release to the second one as if crossing an auditory River Styx.

“The Edifice”, like the song “The Girl With The Balloon” before it, is where you get a little bit of the Meshuggah-esque guitar chugging and -core worked into the overall Herod formula. The band make use of these not so much as defining principles of their sound on Iconoclast but more as elements. Whatever cudgel was available to beat someone overhead, Herod make use of, and so you do wind up with some surprisingly hXc-style shenanigans within an industrial piledriver of a song like “The Edifice” once both vocalists start going in tandem.

The second half of Iconoclast gets a little bit more expansive in its reach; songs get a little longer, and perhaps due to how much their form twists and turns during “The Ode To…”, Herod reach further in terms of genre-usage. “The Becoming”, for instance, drops the hammer immediately in terms of heaviness and could easily call to mind some of the more chaotic moments that took place during the multi-faceted assault that was Autarkh‘s Form In Motion back in 2021.

When you have an artist who willingly owns up to being obsessed with the early works from groups like Meshuggah, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Cult Of Luna, you can’t help but notice how those influences slowly start swirling around the core of Herod and the creature that they’re building on Iconoclast. If you thought you had spotted the sludgier atmospheres beforehand, within the second half of Iconoclast those sharper grooves are more than ever-present. “The Intergloom” is one massive and slow-moving stomp versus the assaults that came before it, which layers sound-upon-sound so that even the quieter ringing that makes up the back half of its three and a half minutes still provides a sense of foreboding. Which of course then gets completely collapsed upon by the following song “The Obsolete”. If there is one move that Herod really like to pull, it’s the sense of calm being annihilated directly afterward, and it happens throughout Iconoclast.

When Iconoclast is going, though, it’ s hard to deny just how hard its rhythmic sensibilities will hit a listener. Even at its most chaotic and oppressive, the mechanized motion with which Herod are advancing on their third album speaks to a part of the brain that will nod along whether you want it to or not. Yes, it’s partially hypnotic because of that, but also because the band pull from blueprints both recognizable and elements that are familiar, fusing them into their own sound, that you already are a step ahead in terms of speaking the band’s musical language.

Iconoclast can be surprisingly violent at times but it’s all so that the whole thing feels like one complete musical motion, and when you weaponize headbanging like Herod have, then you sense easily that they’ve forged themselves a hell of a musical weapon. It is stark and bleak at times, but purposefully so, because it reflects the single-mindedness with which the band are dedicated to the sort of industrial groan you might find in a release by Godflesh. When you fuse all of those elements together, you do get something that is special and very enjoyable – even with the sense of foreboding their atmosphere creates, hovering just out of view.

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