The Philadelphia death-metal trio Horrendous released their debut album, The Chills, in January 2012. I was editor of the metal blog Invisible Oranges at that time, and we reviewed The Chills when it came out. Fun fact: That review was written by a guy named Aaron Lariviere, whom you might know as a co-author of Stereogum’s metal column, The Black Market. That Chills review was one of Aaron’s very first bylined stories on IO; it was the first record review he ever wrote for the site. Funny how these things evolve, right? Anyway, for some reason, I didn’t connect with The Chills when I first heard it — I wrote it off as a solid but somewhat generic old-school retread — but I gotta hand it to Aaron, because he called that one all the way back then. As he wrote in his review:
Careers are built on the backs of albums this strong.
He was right; it just took me a while to recognize it. I fully came onboard with Horrendous’ sophomore LP, Ecdysis, which was one of my favorite albums of 2014, and yielded my very favorite song of the year: its closer, “Titan.” As I wrote of that LP: “Ecydysis doesn’t just raise the stakes and standards for everyone else in the game; it’s a modern classic.”
Ecdysis came out on 10/14/2014, and if Horrendous were following any sort of traditional pattern, they would have waited two years to deliver a follow-up, and that album would have been roughly 25 percent better than its predecessor. But Horrendous have altogether abandoned the blueprint. Their third LP, Anareta, will arrive on 10/30/2015, and it’s somehow 100 percent better than the last one.
Horrendous are nominally modern-day practitioners of old-school death metal — most evident in their retro instrumental tones and production touches — but they’ve expanded the parameters and possibilities of that subgenre, so that their output today feels less like a throwback and more like a long-overdue course correction. You can pinpoint plenty of timeless influences in Horrendous’ music, but to me, the two that stand out most are the Dutch band Pestilence circa their 1989 classic, Consuming Impulse, and the Swedish band At The Gates, as they were transitioning from their early tech-prog era to their pugilistic melodeath peak, a moment captured best on their 1994 LP, Terminal Spirit Disease, and most notably that record’s opening track, “The Swarm.”
Now, to be fair, those are two of my favorite records of all time; if you’re selling me Consuming Impulse-era Pestilence + Terminal Spirit Disease-era At The Gates, you’re basically selling me drugs, and I am buying. But Horrendous aren’t living in the past: On Anareta, they’ve taken the very best elements of their influences and cut away all the fat, delivering intricately structured songs that showcase technical prowess and odd time signatures, but openly prioritize hooks above all else. For all its studiously atavistic elements, Anareta might be the catchiest metal album of 2015. The most substantial hurdle for newcomers will be the vocals, courtesy of Damian Herring and Matt Knox (both of whom are credited here as playing guitars/vocals/bass; the trio is rounded out by drummer Jamie Knox). And those vocals do sound like death: desiccated and ghoulish and disembodied. But they derive pretty openly from death-metal god Martin van Drunen — especially van Drunen in 1988 and ’89, when he was fronting Pestilence, before he went on to make records with Asphyx and Hail Of Bullets. I love ‘em, but you might need to wade in slowly, familiarize yourself. If you’re looking for an easy entry point, start with Anareta’s instrumental track, “Siderea,” on which Horrendous, sans vocals, just use guitar, bass, and drums to build momentum and height, and with only those tools, achieve something genuinely anthemic.
Those melodic/anthemic elements are present in every song on Anareta — even the album’s most off-kilter track, “Acolytes,” eventually leads into a euphoric closing section. “Polaris,” meanwhile, has the hard rhythmic angles and jazzy chord patterns of early Pinback. Throughout Anareta, Horrendous are fearlessly reaching skyward, peeling off guitar leads that climb like clock towers or church steeples: intricate constructions resulting in monuments that are breathtaking to behold from afar, and almost impossible to believe when examined up close.
There’s nary a dud to be found on this album — not a single song here that I couldn’t genuinely call “my favorite,” assuming superlatives weren’t limited to a single entity. On that note: When listening to Anareta, I find myself applying qualified praise to Horrendous, only to strip away those qualifications one by one. I want to say, “They’re the low-key best metal band in America” … but metal is the genre I listen to most, so why am I diminishing them based on their genre? So then I want to say, “They’re the low-key best band in America” … but America is still home to many of the best bands in the world, right? So then I want to say, “They’re the low-key best band in the world.” But why “low-key”? Isn’t that just hedging on my part? Which leaves me wanting to say, “They’re the best band in the world.” Period. Now, you know, I’m not gonna say that. I can’t say that. But goddamn if I don’t feel it.
So anyway, we’re streaming Anareta in full today, five days in advance of its official release. Check it out.
Anareta is out 10/30 via Dark Descent. Pre-order it here.